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 7: Party Favours
• lnquire about the loot bag – you may want to offer up similar but safe treats, which the hostess can put in one of her bags, and set aside for your child. Or perhaps she’ll offer to look for cool, non-food items.
• Clemens says: covertly check the loot bag at pickup time. Bags can get mixed up; or you may want to substitute some safe candy before your party-goer has a peek.
• Watch out for: activities that may involve food. For instance, a piñata. Is there candy in that?
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.
Step 9: Arriving for the Party
• If you are staying, make sure your child is aware of this before the party, and knows why. A surprise could embarrass.
• If you have decided the situation looks good for dropping off your child, the hostess should be given the allergic child’s food along with the cake substitute and any safe candy.
• Remind the hostess about the cross-contamination issue, and ask that she be the one who serves the food to your allergic child. (Other helpers aren’t trained on precautions.)
• With allergy training done in Step 5, you should just show that the anaphylaxis emergency plan, auto-injector (and puffer for asthma if required) are in the medicine bag. Pull out the plan and point to your contact numbers (including your cellphone).
• Always get the hostess’s cellphone.
Step 10: Letting Go
A few last thoughts from Gina Clowes: “Yes, our kids have more to deal with because of their allergies. But our job as parents remains the same: teach them to be in this world on their own.
“So if you feel comfortable that your child is ready to attend a party on his/her own, make sure that the caregivers are trained in avoiding, recognizing and treating allergic reaction. Make sure your child is clear on exactly what he can and cannot eat, and that he knows that he must report symptoms of a reaction immediately to the designated adult.
“You have trained him to get to this point. So, then you kiss his little face and let go. Visualize him or her coming back to you having had a wonderful time at the party and in a few short hours, this will come true.”
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.