• Teach young children to say “no thanks” to unapproved foods. ’Tis the season of sharing and well-meaning adults and children, who will offer food without consulting the parent. Through role play, teach your child to say “no thanks” politely to anything that you have not approved.
• Bring goodies so your child doesn’t feel left out. Involve him in selecting or making a really special (read “junky”) treat. A pack of raisins won’t measure up when all the other kids get SpongeBob SquarePants holiday cupcakes.
• Be a role model; children learn from our behavior. Though I’ve instinctively wanted to remove all shrimp rings and nut trays, I came to realize that Julian had to learn how to avoid food allergens as they will be around him in everyday life, not just during the holidays. We’ve taught him to avoid buffets, scrutinize food labels, and wash his hands regularly. As he’s now in the teen years, we now expect him to make his own inquiries when dining out, asking waiters or friends about ingredients in a way that makes them feel empowered to be able to accommodate his needs.
• Lighten the load for the host. Offer to bring a dish which is safe for your child and can be enjoyed by others. At our neighborhood New Year’s Eve potluck, my family takes care of the kids’ meal – pizza, veggies, and potato chips – a popular treat for all of the kids.
• Be careful of what others don’t know. Friends and relatives may know how to avoid obvious allergens such as peanuts and nuts in baked goods, while they may forget about nut extracts or that butter is, in fact, made from milk. They might not be aware of the risks of cross-contamination through shared utensils. They also may not be label savvy, and not recognize scientific names for allergens such as casein (milk) or albumen (egg).
• Remind your food allergic teen about kissing risks. Talk to your teen about the importance of teaching his date about his food allergies. An intimate kiss could trigger an allergic reaction if his date has eaten something to which he’s allergic.
Here’s wishing you and your family safe, happy holidays.
Laurie Harada is Executive Director of Anaphylaxis Canada, www.anaphylaxis.ca
First published in Allergic Living magazine, Canadian edition.
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