Updated: 5 days ago
When our son was diagnosed with food allergies in 2013, I remember feeling like I wanted to roll him in bubble wrap and never let him leave the house. We had zero knowledge or confidence about how to manage his diagnosis in daily living.
Today he plays on a few travel sports teams, rides his bike to friends’ houses and is gradually growing his independence as a 10-year-old. We do not panic each time he eats and he has a smart watch to call us with questions if he's stuck. He has found a few quick-serve restaurants that he likes and we are modeling for him how to disclaim his allergies when he orders. He's not comfortable ordering on his own yet but we can see that he'll get there in time.
He has tools, we have experience and we are open to collecting more tools to help us both navigate paths we haven't crossed yet. We are slowly growing, trusting the process and leaning on our safety protocols when needed.
Our goal in any activity is safe fun. Safe foods, safety knowledge and safety protocols are a given. So is fun, adventure and growing with new experiences. The combination of both? Amazing.
We have kids who actively participate in life. They are busy with school, sports, dance, music and spending time with their friends. They value their communities and we invest our time into this village.
We’ve found that amplifying the number of eyes and ears looking out for our children's well-being enhances the fun. I no longer see food allergies as the thorn that creates tension or awkwardness in an otherwise peaceful relationship. The fact is, it’s a part of their journey and our village cares about our kids. We reciprocate and care about their kids' well-being too. We all want safe fun for everyone involved. Simple as that.
We are not experts in food allergy management. Occasionally if life has us moving too fast, we still stumble or misread a label from time to time. We also bounce back quicker than the last mistake and learn new tools for the next time we encounter the same experience.
Reflecting backwards there were key anchors in our approach that proved successful. We continue to rinse and repeat these steps when our kids join new teams, start a new class, or have a playdate at a friend's house. The village expands as our kids express interest in new hobbies and so we must keep up.
Educating others about food allergies can feel like a huge task that you don’t have time for, especially on top of the rest of your busy life. Reframe this thinking as an investment that will have compounded payoffs.
By investing a little bit of time in teaching others, you are creating allies, advocates and raising awareness all at the same time.
Your energy and commitment here are worth it!
With the right communication approach, you can reduce your emotional attachment and turn into a teacher who presents the facts, the emergency plan and the resources to share your knowledge. Expect that you may have to often double check your facts as the body of knowledge continues to evolve. People will have varying levels of knowledge and it’s hard to know where to meet them initially in this journey.
You may not feel like an expert yet on food allergies, and neither do I. That’s okay because we know enough to educate others on safety…safe foods, signs of an allergic reaction and safety protocols.
Where does food show up in each gathering?
Are there obvious knowledge gaps or blindspots to be addressed?
Are these individuals in the group already supportive friends or strangers?
Can you see these people becoming trusted allies with the right education?
Our tendency to protect means we grip tighter to control, often pulling back in fierce protection mode. It’s easy to opt out of events, but life is meant to be experienced.
Here are a few tips that will help you share your ongoing education effectively:
1. Make a list of the people in your life that need food allergy education.
Where does food show up in organized activities or events? (school? work? sports teams? neighbors’ or friends' houses?). Start with these activities and then list the people out who are in charge. Prioritize who you educate first by thinking through which activities have the most access to food.
2. Lead with facts over fears.
People have varying levels of knowledge and maybe even their own beliefs about food allergies. Assume that you and the person you’re educating have a shared goal: safety + fun.
Meeting someone where they are in their food allergy education is important. You may be educating someone who is nervous, scared, uninformed, judgmental, or even a bit callous. Wherever they are at, leading with empathy and patience will diffuse their concerns and open their minds to receiving the facts and safety steps.
Leading with two fact-based resources will help you educate others with consistency:
Facts & Statistics
I lean on the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)’s Facts and Statistics website for the most up to date insights.
Allergy Action Plan
Once your board-certified allergist prescribes epinephrine for a food allergy diagnosis, you’ll want to make a communication plan that is readily accessible for anyone who comes into care of your food allergic loved one.
Even expert caregivers who have experience with food allergies need refreshers. It never hurts to let people know that it gives you peace of mind sharing the education and that the field of discovery is active and evolving. You want to ensure they have the latest facts on best practices and safety protocols.
3. Include safe foods of what a person CAN eat.
Stopping at the problem is not as productive as moving towards solutions. For our village we created a visual aid of foods our son CAN eat to help others find comfort in feeding him. Once people see the list of foods they likely already have in their kitchen at home, it brings a level of calm to the conversation.
4. Channel your own energy for good.
If you find yourself getting frustrated because others just don’t get it or you are feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable having to teach others, take a few deep breaths. Observe the emotions you feel (anger? sadness? loneliness? needy? vulnerable?). Pausing before responding may be enough time to center yourself for a different approach if you are experiencing conflict.
Responding with anger towards someone else means you are giving away your energy on an already exhausting journey. Whatever your response, ask yourself, “Is this useful? Is it a productive use of energy?” This is not easy to do at first but with practice you can choose the response that will be the most effective in the end.
Remember the goal: safe fun.
Bring others along slowly and with compassion. They will eventually get there. Remember we didn't birth a five-year-old...we grew into our role as a parent of a child ready for kindergarten.
Setting the right tone will form better partnerships, creative ideation for problem solving and an openness to collaborate.
5. Practice the conversation.
Here is a conversation script to consider for a playdate and you can adapt this for a sports team, school teacher, family member, or any event organized outside of your house.
I may have mentioned at some point that I would put together a 'safe snack' list for what [CHILD] CAN have to eat. If [HE/SHE] is invited for a playdate or shows up at your house to play, this list should empower you to know what you can offer as a snack. When in doubt of course, text us!
One ask/consideration is that if you think there are spots where [NAME SPECIFIC FOOD ALLERGEN] collects (kitchen tables/islands/chairs), please consider wiping it down with soap/water or disinfecting wipes when our kid(s) are at your house. This will help destroy the food protein residue that is not always visible at first glance.
Along with the visual PDF of 'safe snacks', I am also attaching [HIS/HER] Allergy Action Plan. This plan explains the symptoms and emergency protocols for managing allergic reactions. There will be an allergy bag containing all medicine and instructions with our child as well. I am happy to show you how it works if that makes you more comfortable. We look at the medicine as a 'tool' and not a scary needle. 'First and Fast' is the saying for using epinephrine. It is the only medicine that can reverse anaphylaxis.
[OPTIONAL]: Additionally our child will self-carry an epinephrine auto-injector [in their backpack] [in a waist belt bag] and they may require assistance in administering the medicine in case of emergency.
We are grateful for each of you supporting safety while having fun...and we're especially grateful to be a part of your village. Please also share with anyone in your family too!
P.S. Our kids wanted to teach others how to use the auto injector and created this video. We included it for you to see!
For a list of more conversation scripts, email email@example.com with 'Conversation Scripts' in the subject line.
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