As a child, I couldn’t wait for Halloween. Transforming into a princess or superhero was thrilling, and the best part was coming home and dumping my loot onto the kitchen table.
As a parent of a food-allergic son, however, I quickly realized that celebrating Halloween could pose a serious health risk. Still, I didn’t want him to miss out on the same thrills and giggles from the beloved autumn night. So over the years, I’ve come up with a few tricky tips to keep the fun in Halloween for children with food allergies.
Have a nice dinner first. On a full stomach, there will be less temptation to sneak a piece of candy.
Stash a few pieces of safe candy in your pocket. When the other kids inevitably indulge along their route, your child will have something safe to enjoy and won’t feel left out.
Keep the essentials with you. Don’t leave home without a cell phone, flashlight, wet wipes and, of course, the epin- ephrine auto-injector.
Consider supplying a few neighbors with pre-filled sealed treat bags. When your child rings the doorbell, the neighbor can pass out the safe loot and you’ll be certain that he’ll get to keep some of what he has collected.
Choose costumes with gloves if your child is extremely contact-sensitive.
At home, pass out toys. In keeping with the Teal Pumpkin Project, I usually hand out low-cost toys or trinkets. If I do buy candy, I choose something like Smarties, which is safe for multiple allergens. (Keep in mind, though, that Halloween-sized candy sometimes contains different ingredients than its full-size counterpart, so read the labels even on familiar brands.)
And what about the favorite part: coming home and dumping the candy stash onto the kitchen table? Here’s how to handle it:
0-2 year-olds: Forget the candy. An adorable costume, a juice box and a few safe cookies will do the trick. At this age, it’s a treat just to answer the door and pass out trinkets – as long as the trick-or-treaters aren’t scary monsters.
2-4 year-olds: Most kids this young can be fooled by one of my favorite tactics: the “Bait and Switch.” Give your child a plastic pumpkin for trick-or-treating. When you return home and while your child is busy washing his hands, swap the plastic pumpkin with an identical pumpkin that you filled ahead of time with safe treats.
5-8 year-olds: At this age, kids are old enough to understand that certain candy could make them really sick. So try a tactic that I call “Trade Up”. Here’s how it worked with my son. I’d buy a variety of pricey novelty candy ($7 spinning lollipop, anyone?), as well as a few inexpensive toys. When my son returned home from trick-or-treating, we’d head to the kitchen table and begin bartering, with him trading his unsafe candy for my safe candy, toys and trinkets. Everyone wins!
8 and up: In this age range, cash is king. Most kids are more than happy to trade their unsafe candy for nickels, dimes, quarters or even dollars. I call this tactic “Cash for Pumpkins”. Watch their eyes widen with excitement as their coins add up to a nice chunk of change! Some kids might be more excited by a larger-ticket item, like a doll or game that can be traded for an entire bag of candy.
Siblings: If you are uncomfortable keeping allergens in your home, then offer to trade siblings’ candy, too. Or, consider saving a stash in a safe place and promise to take your non-allergic child on a “peanut date” (or other allergen) where she can indulge in the forbidden candy without endangering her allergic brother or sister.
Halloween with food allergies requires a little work behind the scenes. However, when parents model resilience and a can-do attitude, our kids are inclined to follow in our footsteps. Halloween can be a treat for your whole family!
Gina Clowes is a columnist for Allergic Living magazine. She is a master certified life coach, specializing in the needs of parents of children with food allergies, and the founder and director of the online support group AllergyMoms.com.
First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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