Those of you who follow the Lauren's Hope blog may recall me writing earlier this fall about my six-year-old daughter, Julia, and how she was recently diagnosed with a chocoalate allergy (specifically, a cacao allergy). When I tell people Julia is allergic to chocolate, the most common response from adults is something completely reasonable and calm like this: "Chocolate? She's allergic to chocolate?! I would DIE." So, I've learned to phrase it differently, especially when Julia is within earshot. I say, "Julia is allergic to chocolate, and boy, removing it from her diet has made her feel so much better! And she's trying lots of great new flavors now!" or something similar, and that's helping my daughter stay positive about it while giving adults the cue that I'd appreciate them doing so too.
But now it's Halloween.
Our first Halloween with this food allergy issue. It's a tough one. Yes, we'll still go trick-or-treating. I'll just carry her Epipen (below, with our Lauren's Hope Small Fun Glass medical ID bracelet) and my cell phone, and I'll be very mindful of what treats she can open and eat.
Outside of trick-or-treating, I'm buying some "safe" treats to swap out after she gathers all her loot, and I'm taking some non-chocolate, allergy-friendly treats to school so she doesn't feel left out there, either. That's all well and good, but what about when I'm not around? What about when she's with friends at lunch or at after-school care the week after Halloween and everyone is bringing in that daily piece of candy and swapping around the table? This is where even young kids need to learn to self-advocate and spot (un)safe treats.
Here's our plan:
1. We talk about "safe" and "unsafe" foods. Julia came home one day telling me she had lollipops with her friend, and that she knew that was ok because they aren't chocolate. It occured to me that she didn't know some lollipops, like Tootsie Pops, have chocolate(ish) stuff in them. So now, we talk about asking an adult about ANY food that didn't come from Mommy and reminding them about her allergy.
2. We talk about sharing toys, not food. This is a tough one, as we do always encourage kids to share nicely, but with food, it's really just not a great idea. Between germs, colds, and the many food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities kids have, I simply encourage my daughter to eat what I send from home and not trade with friends. Bonus: This means she's more involved when we grocery shop because she wants to be sure she has foods she likes. Challenge: This means she's more involved when we grocery shop because she wants to be sure she has foods she likes.
3. We talk about food allergies in front of and with everyone. It's not a secret and, at the same time, we don't try to make it a scary thing. For example, while out to dinner with a friend and his kids recently, the kids all wanted dessert, but everything had chocolate in it. When I explained to the server that Julia has a chocolate allergy, she was very happy to bring her a scoop of vanilla ice cream so she could enjoy dessert with the other kids. When her friend asked if she wanted to try his chocolate sundae, I explained what a chocolate allergy is, and he said something like, "Oh. Ok. Where's my ipod?" Kids. So now, as we head into Halloween, because we've talked about it so much, we feel confident that just about everyone in Julia's daily life knows about her food allergy, and all of the adults around her know where her Epipens are and how to use them.
What do you do to help safeguard your child (or yourself!) from food allergens when there are so many treats and snacks around this time of year and through the holidays? What has and hasn't worked for you in the past? We want to hear from you!