Two children in every U.S. classroom have food allergies. That’s 5.9 million children across the United States, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). But even though so many kids suffer and about 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis, some people still think food allergies are a hee-larious joke.
Even the recent film rendition of Peter Rabbit poked fun at food allergies in the scene where the human is intentionally attacked with his allergen and, because it’s so freaking funny, goes into an anaphylaxis response that requires the use of epinephrine.
Just a bit of fictional fun, right?
I’m sorry to say, it starts with you.
With every roll of your eye, every huff of annoyance, your kids are watching. They know what a pain in the butt it is for you when you can’t slap together a PB & J and pack it in their sack lunch for school or when the cupcakes you’ve spent days perfecting for the class birthday party get turned away at the door. They know because you make it known.
But, I get it.
I mean, not being able to bring in the homemade rainbow layered cake you were up all night frosting due to my child’s silly egg allergy is a big bummer. Not being able to sneak a mini bag of peanut M&Ms into your kid’s lunch box because of someone else’s nut allergy is super tough. What are your kids supposed to eat? Sauteed tofu between flaccid slabs of gluten-free bread? Besides, we all know these so-called allergies are a bunch of BS anyway. Seriously, where were all these allergies when we were growing up? What we have now are just some whiny kids with panic-stricken parents who probably make a part-time job out of Googling their child’s every hiccup. It’s not like the kid is really going to die if they eat a pinch of a peanut (or egg or fish if it happens to be my child).
Yes, it is.
It’s just like that.
And it’s not just my kid. It’s 1 in every 13 children who are allergic to one of the eight major food allergens: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish. And maybe it’s time to take a look at your reactions to such children and start helping your own children develop more empathy and understanding. I’m guessing none of you want to be on the receiving end of a call home where your kid is the dick flinging peanuts in the lunchroom. I’m also guessing (and hoping) that you just don’t know where to begin. In that case, I’ve come up with a list of ten suggestions to stop yourself from being an asshole when you come across a kid with food allergies.
10.) Stop Making It About You
Please don’t roll your eyes when I ask what’s in the massive bowl of pasta salad you brought to the potluck. I’m not going to interrogate your cooking. I couldn’t care less if it came from the deli counter and was handed off to you by someone in a hairnet instead of made from scratch. Really, I’m not judging. I just want to know if what you brought could be lethal to my child. The less you make it about you, the less your own kids will think mine has done something to annoy you.
9.) Don’t Assume
When my family goes to a restaurant, I often bring my child’s lunch box. No, she’s not a picky eater who will only eat donuts for dinner. No, we aren’t terrible parents for not developing her palate or letting her explore the world with her taste buds. We are just bringing foods we know are safe to eat and would like to do so in a setting outside our dining room. If you see this, please don’t make assumptions. Instead, turn your attention to what your own children are doing (likely, they’re picking their noses or licking the salt shaker) and make the conversation about their choices not the judgement of others.
8.) Save Your Sympathy
Don’t talk behind my back about how hard it must be for me to accommodate for my child’s allergies. So, she can’t have an omelet for breakfast or fish and chips for dinner. Trust me, she won’t starve! When you live with this crap, it’s not that hard. The difficult part is educating everyone else and when you pity me, you make your own kids think mine is a burden. She’s not.
7.) Service with a Smile
If you wait on me and I ask you whether or not an item on the menu contains one of my daughter’s allergens, please don’t tell me, “I don’t think so.” Go freaking ask someone! Preferably, ask the person who made it. And it’d be great if you did it with a semi-smile so we don’t all wonder if you’ve spit in our food for making you walk an extra 50 steps to the kitchen.
6.) None Means None
This part can be confusing, I know. In an everything-in-moderation kind of world, it’s hard to believe that there are some things that are just totally off limits. But, for people with food allergies, this is non-negotiable. My daughter cannot have “just a little bit.” Once you’ve pushed an epi-pen into a four-year-old’s small thigh or stayed up all night after an accidental encounter listening to your child’s breathing and praying it doesn’t stop, you’ll understand. But, for now, just know that none means none. Really.
5.) Resist the Urge to Ask
Don’t get me wrong, not all questions are bad. Asking about what a child with food allergies can and cannot eat is more than fine. Please, go right ahead, no matter how silly it seems. (Seriously, I once asked the allergist if my daughter could swim in the ocean if she’s allergic to fish. The answer was yes, but he did pause to think about it.) Questions about the signs of a reaction are equally OK. But please don’t continually ask me when my daughter will grow out of her food allergy. Believe me, I’ll let you know if she’s grown out of it. In fact, I’ll throw the biggest bash where the only food options are gigantic bowls of egg salad and platters full of fried fish. Until then, she hasn’t grown out of it, and I really don’t want to hear about all the kids you know that have.
4.) Accept That More Kids Have Allergies Now Than They Once Did
According to The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011 and, between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy appears to have more than tripled in U.S. children. Yes, this is weird. But, when I tell you she has food allergies, don’t launch into a monologue about how kids didn’t have allergies back when you were in school. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why kids weren’t blowing up like balloons at the sight of dairy decades ago. I just blame her father and then get on with it.
3.) Keep Your Cool
Try not to flip out if you don’t have something my daughter can eat. I don’t expect you not to have cake at your child’s birthday party. I’m not a monster. I don’t expect you to inspect all the ingredients before bringing a load of snacks to the soccer game. At any given moment, my purse is loaded with alternatives she can eat. Really, it’s no big deal if you forgot/didn’t know/just realized. Just keep it cool so my daughter (and the rest of her team or the kids at the party) doesn’t feel like she’s made you freak.
2.) Fess Up
If you do accidentally feed my child something she can’t eat, tell me. Tell me all the facts and save the euphemisms. Don’t tell me she had just a sip if, in fact, she chugged the eggnog like a college kid at a frat party. I know you are trying to put my mind at ease. I know you didn’t mean to. I just need to know exactly what happened so I can take quick action. The more you down play it, the more you send the message that allergies should be trivialized.
1.) Talk to Your Kids
Now, this is the biggie. Explain to your children what food allergies are. Tell them about what could happen if a child in their class eats something they are allergic to. Use their names; make them real people with real feelings. Talk about how it might feel to sit at the nut-free table or alone during a celebration and what they can do to make the children with allergies feel more included. This doesn’t have to be a lecture. A casual conversation every once in a while will do.
As an educator for over a decade, I know one thing for sure: kids will follow your lead if you just show them where to go. They are watching you and they are taking note on whether you laugh at the scene in the movie or get up and leave. It’s time to start being the parents who take food allergies seriously and save the laughs for something that’s really funny.
For more information about food allergies and how you can fight the stigma, please visit https://www.foodallergy.org.
Jenna Barclay holds a BA in Journalism and MA in Education. When she’s not wrangling her precocious, penguin-loving six-year-old and plotting to take over the world with her husband, she’s over at Adventures in Mom Jeans giving bad advice. You can also holler at her on Facebook and Twitter.Website: http://www.adventuresinmomjeans.com
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