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Experiencing Guided Independence

Giordano’s Pizza by Chris Metcalf

My blogs are for the purposes of offering practical advice and not for the purposes of providing medical advice or a medical opinion. This blog post may be helpful when parenting social situations. Be sure to use appropriate judgment.

From a pure parental perspective we hope the guidance and modeling we provide for our kids will eventually pay off.  We’ve brought them to restaurants and gatherings and have shown them how to present their allergies to restaurant personnel, friends and family in order to stay safe. As kids get older their natural tendency to stray further away from their parents becomes material. At some point it becomes time for our kids to experience eating on their own.

In our town we have something called Early Release Day in which students like to go into town and have lunch with their friends. This usually starts in middle school when it’s likely they will have cell phones. Upon entering this stage of life a lot of changes start to occur. Kids strive for independence from their parents and even more so, social recognition and acceptance from their peers. Kids with food allergies can easily feel socially isolated and it’s our job to boost their self-confidence and empower them to be on their own. In our culture much social interaction happens around food. The best way to help our kids manage these social issues is to encourage them by reinforcing food allergy safety and simple etiquette.

The main focus of a gathering should be around people you are with, times you share together and enjoyment you have in celebration of the occasion. In other words, being with your friends should be about the company you are with and not about food.

This is not an experiment. The following three scenarios are actual real accounts of situations that recently occurred. Independence and food allergy safety should be encouraged with proper support and guidance from parents. Setting kids up for success is our responsibility. After all, one of these days our food allergic kids will have a job and a family of their own. Hanging out with their friends should be an enjoyable time for them, even if it is a nail biting activity for us!

Scenario #1. This child is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. She and her mother decided the safest way for her to go out to lunch with her friends was to bring her own lunch from home. She ate her home made lunch with her friends at a local pizza restaurant. This was a little uncomfortable for the allergic child from a peer perspective, but it was planned and her friends completely understood. This was not the first time she had had an allergy conversation with her friends. She once had an allergic reaction to sesame at a friend’s house. Everyone respected her right to safety and no one wanted to see her have an allergic reaction. Bringing her lunch (and epi-pen)was the right thing to do.

Scenario #2. Two children have food allergies. One is allergic to peanuts and the other is allergic to tree nuts. These boys decided to go out for pizza and then ice cream. Both boys felt comfortable eating in the pizza restaurant because each of their families had eaten there in the past. The peanut allergic boy did not order ice cream or eat dessert. He also had his Avi-Q with him just in case. The tree nut allergic boy had pizza and ordered from the ice cream shop, but again he had done this in the past with his family and was familiar with the shop’s protocol of washing the scoop and taking from a clean batch in the back. He had an Epi in his backpack. All kids had cell phones. Parents were on call. Kids had a great time!

Scenario #3. The child in this example is allergic to eggs, dairy, and mustard. Her friends decided to go to a major Italian style chain restaurant for lunch and an ice cream self-serve place for dessert. This food allergic child ate pasta with tomato sauce on the side prepared and served by the restaurant. However, she brought her own allergy free dessert and epi-pen. Again, cell phones were available and parents were on call.

I try not to view myself as a helicopter parent, but food allergies warrant a little extra parental control. Here are my suggestions for monitoring situations such as these…

  1. It takes a village to raise a child. Parenting cannot be done alone, especially if a child is food allergic. Be sure to collaborate with parents of your child’s friends. Send an email message to parents a week to a few days in advance to establish rules for the outing, and explain FA safety.
  2. Scout out appropriate restaurants in which are safe for your FA child to eat. Explain to others that your child has FA and the restaurants he chooses may be out of necessity not preference.  Utilize the Allergy Eats resources or add to their database.
  3. Set parameters around their outing adventure. Have discussions with your child to help him think through the situation. Who will they be with, where they will go, and especially where they will eat? Establish a plan for safety.
  4. Call the restaurant a day in advance and be sure they are aware of the situation. Review food allergy policies with the restaurant.
  5. Review the menu with your child in advance to be sure he is comfortable ordering on his own. Another plan is to role play by eating there with your child before the day of the outing.
  6. Reinforce social responsibility. Kids should stay together. Make sure everyone agrees to this and specify the importance of relying on each other when adults are not around.
  7. Be sure your child carries his epinephrine auto injector and feels comfortable talking with friends about emergency situations. Talk to your child about how to include friends in discussions about safety and what to do in emergency situations.

With the right guidance you and your child can safely and successfully enter the ‘tweenage’ years. You are not alone! I am here to offer guidance and suggestions; your doctor is available to answer questions. Your community is there for your support. Take advantage of the resources in your village and stay safe!

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