In the Fall 2010 issue of Allergic Living, we turned to three allergy advocates and moms to help navigate the world of the kid’s birthday party.
Gina Clowes, a Certified Life Coach and founder of AllergyMoms.com; Beatrice Povolo the director of marketing and communications for Anaphylaxis Canada and Susan Clemens, the moderator of AllergicLiving.com’s Forum and an allergy advocate. All three have children who live with multiple food allergies.
Here’s a sampling of the advice they had to offer:
Step 1 Initial Reply to the Invitation
It’s important to call soon after receiving the invitation.
The Call: Start with a gracious thank you and acknowledgement that your child is thrilled to be invited. Now move into the key points:
• Politely ask where the party will be held. For instance, will it be at a venue or the hostess’s home?
• With this information to guide you, bring up (or remind of) your child’s food allergies. Ask if now is a good time to go over a few details to both keep your child safe and resolve any initial concerns about child’s attendance.
• Stress that you’re happy to help in any way, and calmly move onto:
– Will the party involve a meal or snack?
– What activities will take place? Might there be a risk of exposure to allergens? Look for solutions to minimize any risks.
– What will be the order of activities? For instance, if the party starts with a pizza lunch and your child’s dairy allergic, could the hostess and her helpers ensure the kids have all washed up, and then your child will arrive post-lunch but pre-cake presentation?
• If the party includes lunch at a home, discuss that you’ll send your child with something safe to eat. More in Step 2.
• Discuss cake arrangements. See Step 4.
• Ask the parent if she is familiar with an auto-injector or EpiPen. Ask to set a date closer to the party to grab a coffee with her and demonstrate the use of the auto-injector and do a review of the anaphylaxis emergency plan (also called the food allergy action plan). Step 5 details that conversation.
Step 3 What You Can Do
• Why not offer to help supervise the party? Many parties require extra adult eyes, such as mini golf, play gym and kids’ theatre outings. This is also true of larger home parties.
• Whether you drop off your child or stay depends on the party situation, the hostess’s level of comfort managing allergies, and your child’s anxiety level and ability to manage his or her allergies. Trust your instinct on this.
• If the party will be at a facility, such as an indoor playground, wave pool, museum or beading venue, contact the management to inquire about allergen policies. (Quite a few facilities catering to kids now have peanut/nut restrictions.)
• Restaurants don’t usually permit outside food. But if you explain the allergies in advance, you’ll often be allowed to bring along safe food from home.
Step 6 Drop Off or Stay?
• Povolo advises staying if the child’s: unusually anxious or not ready to be left (there is no magic age for this), or when the host parent asks that you do.
• Now that her son is 9, Clowes will still attend a party if it takes place at a public venue her son’s not familiar with. At house parties when he was younger, she would just be frank about her feelings. “I’d say, ‘I’m a little nervous to leave Daniel. He is still impulsive sometimes about what he eats. I can hang out and read, but I’d also be so happy to help. Anything I can do?”
• Clemens often goes and takes fun, candid photos of the kids. She presents a CD of the snapshots to the parents as a thank you for letting her attend. Given her daughter’s list of allergies, “when I delicately ask if I can be allowed to stay, the response is usually one of relief.”
Step 8 Prepping Your Child
• Before the call to the hostess, Clemens likes to ask her 8-year-old what issues she would raise. “By involving the child, you ensure she or he feels safe, and it limits anxiety. It becomes less of “Mommy has to keep me safe,” and more “I can keep myself safe.”
• Instill confidence: remind the child that he has his auto-injector and knows how to use it. Get the child repeat the allergy rules known by heart (no sharing, no eating unknown foods, wash after eating). The message? See, you know this stuff.
• Remind that you’re nearby and have your cellphone if there are any problems. If child thinks he or she is getting symptoms, tell the hostess right away.
• Clowes has emphasized to her son that “he never has to eat anything that he has a question about.” That’s a great anxiety diffuser.
• Role play can be helpful: Ask “what will you say?” if an adult at the party (or anywhere) offers a food the child can’t eat. Clowes has suggested several turn-down options to her son, from “no thank you” and “I’m allergic” to “I just ate” in a situation where he doesn’t want to stand out. (The point is, he turns down the food.)
• Matter-of-factly ask the child for his or her thoughts on the party. If there are lingering concerns, discuss and resolve.
• Don’t just talk allergy issues. Be enthused about the party and celebrating the birthday friend. Get the child to bring up gift ideas. With food allergies, we “prepare” for fun, but we want fun all the same.
Next Page: Sidebar “Allergy Talk“
Allergy Party Talk
Tone is everything in communication. With the host parents, be courteous, thoughtful and respectful of their child’s special occasion. “Can I do this to help?” will win you friends. “You must” sounds demanding, perhaps intimidating and definitely off-putting.
• It’s not a good idea to “wing it” in your pre-party discussions with the hostess. Anaphylaxis is serious and so you want to be organized, clear, succinct and calm. We suggest using this guide to help you during your hostess call and follow-up meeting, adding your own questions to reflect a particular allergy situation.
• Stay focused on the positive, and inspire the hostess to have a similar attitude about your child. Beatrice Povolo speaks of her son’s allergies as important but quite manageable. She avoids presenting her son in a negative light. e.g. “Poor Joey really wants to come, but he has these allergies .…”
• Be an allergy ambassador, says Susan Clemens. “Welcome questions, but don’t preach.” She reminds: “The party is not about your child. Special allowances need to be done smoothly and without fanfare.”
• Say thank you, a lot.