No kid wants to be “that kid.” The one who can’t do the things other kids do. The one who’s different. The one who’s always left out.
Nearly six million kids are “that kid.” Not because they pick their nose or they wear funny outfits. It’s something they’re likely born with: a food allergy.
Food allergies are on the rise. Peanut and tree nut allergies, for example, tripled in the decade leading up to 2008. One in 13 kids now has a food allergy. That’s about two in every classroom.
This week (May 14th – 20th) is Food Allergy Awareness Week, and parents of kids with or without allergies can use this as an opportunity to make those allergy sufferers feel more comfortable, more safe, more normal.
Arm yourself with information. While there are hundreds of foods that have triggered allergic reactions in people, only eight foods are responsible for the majority of allergies:
- Tree nuts
- Crustacean shellfish
Be considerate. When hosting a playdate or a birthday party, ask parents if their kids have any dietary restrictions. You don’t have to change the entire menu, but having an option that everyone can eat will go a long way in making kiddos feel welcomed and included.
Learn to read labels. Kids have different levels of allergic reactions. Some have a mild allergy and can tolerate some exposure. Others have severe allergies and can’t risk eating anything made in the same facility or on the same equipment as their allergen. If you don’t know the level of the allergy, it’s best to assume it’s severe. Check the entire box or bag for warnings, and keep the labels so the parents can double-check.
Be prepared for an emergency. When a parent drops off a child with a food allergy, make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency. What’s the best way to reach the parents? When should you call 911? Do they have an EpiPen? It may seem overwhelming and scary, but you can prepare by watching this video showing how to use an EpiPen.
Explain the situation to your kids. One-third of kids with a food allergy say they’ve been bullied because of it. Some kids may think it’s funny to smear peanut butter on a child with allergies or try to force them to drink milk, but it’s anything but funny. It can cause a life-threatening reaction. Talk to your kids about how serious food allergies can be. You can start the conversation by showing them this moving public service announcement.
There’s no cure for food allergies, and many kids will never outgrow them. A little understanding and acceptance from others can make a difference for the rest of their lives.