How to Cope When Your Child Has Food Allergies

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peanut-allergy

It doesn’t matter how old your kid is when you find out he has food allergies, the first thing that goes through your head is; he’s never going to have a normal life.

I know it sounds melodramatic – to you maybe, if your kid doesn’t have food allergies. But to me, when my son was 9 months old and I was told that 7 different foods could kill him, I assure you, I did not think I was being overly dramatic.

When the nurse walked in, all matter-of-fact, and handed me these things I’d heard of but never actually seen; epi-pens, I thought “But they’ve always been for other people’s kids.” The panic set in. He could eat something that could kill him, and it’s my responsibility to save his life? ARE YOU CRAZY?! This is scarier than the day you sent me home with him when he was 48 hours old and said, you can do it!

Here’s a no nonsense list of how to get over the fear…

1. Get a grip. It doesn’t matter what you are feeling on the inside, you need to at least appear to be strong for your child. Shake yourself if you need to, yell at yourself in the mirror, whatever you have to do but get over it.

2. Realize this is not about you. You are responsible for the life of your child, and if it means no more peanut butter in the house, it doesn’t matter how much you love peanut butter. There is no more peanut butter in the house!

3. This is not about your husband either. You are not alone in insuring your child’s safety. It doesn’t matter if your husband’s favorite cereal is Honey Nut Cheerios, and he PROMISES he’ll be really careful. Tell him to keep it at work and if you find it in the house it’s going in the garbage.

4. Your house needs to be the one place you know your child is safe. Unless you want to label every single food item in the house, you need to be able to tell a babysitter/nanny/grandparent everything in this house is safe for my child to eat. You also need to make it clear that babysitter/nanny/grandparent can not bring any food into the house.

5. Do NOT cheat. You MAY NOT buy food that is processed in a facility that also processes (insert allergen here). The problem with that unclear labelling is not that there might be mild contamination in every M&M. The problem is your child might get the one M&M in one million that has a peanut in it. And while you are cleaning the kitchen thinking nothing of it. Your child is in the other room turning purple and going in to anaphylaxis.

6. Get over your shyness. You have to be OK with being the mom who asks what the ingredients are in the cake/pizza/bread at the birthday party. You have to be OK with saying, I will be bringing my son’s own food/cake/snacks.

7. You are your child’s only advocate with play-dates. You are now going to have to train every mom you come in contact with how to use an epi-pen, and you are going to have to do it with a smile and confidence. Do not ambush a mother with this information when you drop your child off. Talk it over when you make the play-date and make sure she feels like she can handle it. The play-date can always be at your house. NEVER let your child have a play-date without leaving Benadryl and epi-pens with the mother. Explain how to use them and what to look for. Let the mother know what your child can and cannot eat. If necessary bring your own snacks.

8. You are your child’s only advocate in school/classes/camp. You must speak out. You must tell the administration, teachers and nurses all about your child’s food allergies. You must push for an allergen free classroom. It is not acceptable that the allergens be allowed in the classroom no matter the occasion and you have to put your foot down. You must be an active part of your child’s life in school to insure his safety.

9. You are your child’s only advocate with doctors. Do NOT let your pediatrician treat your child’s food allergies. Demand a referral to a pediatric allergist. Do your research, ask around, you are not the only mom of a kid with food allergies. Find the very best allergist and even if he’s a little farther than the so-so one, go those extra miles. If you advocate for your child and do the research, it is possible that you may know more than your pediatrician does about food allergies.  Do not be afraid to change doctors. Your doctor works for you, if you are not happy with the treatment or feedback or availability then find a new doctor!

10. Use the resources available to you. There are so many resources out there for kids with food allergies now! There is a very large national group, there are smaller local support groups. Use the resources, educate yourself. Get to the point where you feel so confident that you know even if there is a reaction, you can handle it.

You are strong, dammit. You’re a mother for pete’s sake! You can do this. Just remember to leave the drama at home. The chances of your child developing self-esteem issues because of food allergies is relatively high. If you do not do your job, and be the best advocate you can be, the chance that your child will not want to carry epi-pens when he gets older because he is embarrassed is also very high.

Take a deep breath, start now and you will be amazed. In a few years someone will say to you “Isn’t it hard to deal with all of those food allergies?” And you’ll say “Nope, it is what it is, it’s a part of how we live everyday.”

Comments

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  1. 1

    Frankie Laursen says

    These are great tips. My children do not have any food allergies, but some of their friends do.

    I was so sad to read about the 13-year old Sacramento, CA girl who died recently from eating a small amount of peanuts in a Rice Krispie.

    My son’s school is not peanut-free. I usually pack a PBJ for him. Now I wonder whether I shouldn’t, just in case. What would you recommend?

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    • 2

      JenKehl says

      Thank you! We do sunbutter at our house. I’m not going to lie and say it tastes exactly like peanut butter, but it is darn close. You might try it. At the very least, maybe send your son with some wet wipe singles so he can really be sure all of the sticky peanut butter is off of his hands and face.

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    • 3

      The Atomic Mom says

      I have a peanut/tree nut allergic son. Our school is also not peanut/treenut free. It scares me to death, but his teachers know, and they have a no sharing policy and he is still young enough that they have a monitor with his class at snack time. As for what to do…does your child have a peanut allergic friend he would like to sit with or play with? Is there a peanut allergic child in the classroom? Those are some of the things you need to consider when sending a PB&J. Because if the answer is yes, I would tell you to stop sending the PB&J. Ask the teacher, ask the nurse, ask the principal and then make the decision if there are peanut./treenut allergic kids in close contact with your child. You can never be too careful. There are plenty of peanut free lunch options that are not expensive or too difficult. Just a few clicks on the google and you will find a wealth of information. My favorite peanut/treenut free lunch box blog is The Keeley McGuire Blog.

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    • 4

      Kathleen says

      One thing that many people don’t realize about certain food allergies (and I had no clue about this until my son ended up having an allergy) is that they don’t necessarily have to ingest the food to have a reaction. They don’t even need to touch it. Sometimes, the smell alone can cause a very sensitive person to have a life-threatening reaction. I know this is true of peanut allergies. My son has had reactions simply from walking past a table that had a jar of peanut butter on it. Not every person with a peanut allergy is that sensitive and even my son is not consistently that sensitive.

      Because you don’t know what sort of allergies are present around your son, and your school hasn’t required you to stop sending PBJ, I would keep doing what you’re doing but I did like the comment about including wipes and/or instructing your child to wash his hands after eating. It is the responsibility of the parent of the allergic child to protect that child and if that child is ultra sensitive then special steps should be taken or the child should be sent to a school with an allergen free lunch room. I don’t feel that everyone else should have to change because of my son’s allergy. It’s something he and I will have to deal with. (I do make exceptions to this in closed environments like airplanes where he has nowhere else to go.)

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      • 5

        Alison says

        I’m so curious since you mentioned airplanes – I have an allergic kids too, (eggs, peanuts, tree nuts) and I have no idea how to handle air travel. If yours is super sensitive – what kind of advocacy can you do to encourage a safe space in that environment?

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        • 6

          Pam says

          To answer the airplane question, when we flew to Florida we called the airline (Southwest) well in advance to let them know. They did not serve any peanuts/nuts on our flight, and they also made an announcement to all passengers that someone on the flight had a severe peanut allergy and to please refrain from eating nuts. We still brought his snacks, but at least this way there weren’t peanuts and peanut wrappers all over the place. I think most airlines would accommodate?

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        • 8

          Mary says

          My 12 yr. old DD is allergic to peanuts. Fortunately she hasn’t had anaphylaxis (yet). She flew for the second time last month. Last year we flew Southwest. They let us preboard and I could wipe down the seat, armrest and tray. They announced there was a peanut allergy on the flight and an alternate snack would be served.
          This month we flew Delta. We did not get to preboard but in the announcement they asked that passengers refrain from eating peanut products. We also received both pretzels and cookies.
          We did get a letter from her physician each time authorizing the Epipen on each flight. But no one even mentioned it or asked for it during security.

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        • 9

          Kathleen says

          What Pam said. I alert the airline in advance and then they won’t serve peanuts that flight and they do make an announcement as well. The only one I’ve flown with is Southwest also but I’m sure other airlines would do the same. They don’t want someone going into shock at 30k feet any more than you do.

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      • 10

        Jen says

        Kathleen, there’s something else. When I fly with my son I bring 8 epi-pens. I know that sounds excessive, but, one epi-pen injection only buys you 15 minutes for a severe reaction. It would take much longer than that for a plane to make an emergency landing. I say better safe than sorry.

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  2. 11

    MILF Runner says

    We face this regularly at our school, though my own kids don’t have life-threatening allergies. What I would have loved (and asked for from the parents but never got!) would be a list of the allergic kids’ favorite snacks and how the parents have successfully worked around stuff like birthday cakes, etc. Yes, we could all do the research, but the experienced parents know specifically (and generally) what works for their kid. I have a whole lot of food intolerances…which sucks but they aren’t deadly…the research I have to do to eat ‘safely’ is huge and I am always happy to share it.

    This is a great post.

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    • 12

      JenKehl says

      Thanks! And I completely agree. I do think it’s the school’s job to ask the parents of allergic kids to provide that information. I’m sure if asked, they’d be happy too.

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  3. 13

    Leslie Marin - The Pioneer Mom says

    Wonderful info! The number one thing is to keep your child safe. It’s amazing how many of our sacrifices that are necessary for the safety of our little ones. Think of how they feel about not having something most others can have. And you are 100% Spot on about being the best advocate you can for your child! Nicely done!

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  4. 14

    CaffeineJunkie says

    Great article and I can totally relate to this cause if you just substitute food alergies for Type 1 Diabetes, it’s basically the same thing. All of it applies. Nearly 4 years into this now, I am still that helicopter parent at social outings, checking everything he eats, monitoring him for signs of low blood sugar etc, and absolutely I insist on having the nutritional info on everything. I apologize for none of it cause it’s my job as a Mom to keep him alive and well, first and foremost. Kuddos to all you moms who do deal with food allergies. I get it. I so get it.

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  5. 15

    therobynnest says

    I’ve read that cross-contamination from foods processed on the same equipment is as high as 15-20%. Definitely not one in a million, unfortunately. And still, I was guilty of allowing it.

    This is all great advice. My pediatrician (as well as the first allergist we saw) was incompetent when it came to helping us.

    My advice would be to only go to the best doctor in a 50 mile radius of your home. Research it, ask everyone. There are a lot of quacks out there.

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  6. 17

    Paula Hafner says

    I just want to add that if your child has a less common allergy, be prepared to be met with disbelief even from doctors. My daughter is highly allergic to red food dyes (she has to carry epi-pens) and has a milder allergy to several of the blue and yellow dyes. It was proven through allergy testing. We had to see a different allergist after she turned 18. This one didn’t believe anyone could be “that allergic to a food dye” until they saw the testing paperwork. Needless to say, we never went to them again.

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    • 18

      Christina says

      I had to go to the ER last year for an allergic reaction to Red Dye #3, and my mother told me that when I was a child I had an allergy to Red Dye #1. I followed up with an allergist and he told me they could not test for red dye allergies! I guess I should be following up with another allergist!

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      • 19

        Paula Hafner says

        Our family doctor wrote up a special request to the allergist to have her tested for a food dye allergy. She ate some cinnamon candy at 14 and had a bad reaction. I finally narrowed it down to it being the dye. It’s not commonly tested without a doctor’s orders.

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    • 20

      The Atomic Mom says

      I have a friend who is Red Dye #40 allergic…so I believe you. I also have another friend with a son who is allergic to carrots. Yes, plain old carrots. Which is why I always say, if you can put it in your mouth, you can be allergic to it.

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    • 21

      JenKehl says

      And all of this is why I say, if you don’t like what you hear from your doctor. GO FIND A NEW ONE!
      I didn’t write about this, but my son is also allergic to extreme heat and extreme cold, we live in the midwest so we have both. Our pediatrician poo pooed it. Needless to say, we moved on and found out they are both real conditions!

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    • 22

      JOanna Bateman says

      I need to know who to take my kid to to be tested for food dye allergys!!! I know she is allergic just not confirmed!! who did you go to how did you find out?

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  7. 23

    Debbie says

    These are great points you make. I have one that can’t have many dairy products. She has out grown some of it. She was very small when she was born and that first year they kept telling me that her digestive system was in-mature.
    When she was 10 months old she got very sick, went from 18 pounds to 13 pounds in less than 24 hours do to vomiting and diarrhea. Was in the hospital for 10 days.

    Know body could tell me what was really wrong with her. Finally I came upon an article about food allergies. Took her to allergy doctor and finally at a year and half got her on the right track.
    When she was in school I always left treats with her teach for when there was birthdays etc.
    You are right you have to be strong and stick up for your child.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Debbie

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  8. 25

    Dietcokeaddict says

    Even common food allergies can be disbelieved by people, my son is allergic to soy and dairy and while dr believe this family and friends do not. And if they believe soy and dairy can cause issues they feel that he only gets an upset stomach not breathing issue, wich has happened.

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  9. 27

    Janine Huldie says

    This is a great post Jen and I don’t have a child with a food allergy per say, but I do completely agree that for most things (doctors and schools included), we are our child’s advocate and it is so important to remember this for whatever issues they may have or need us to convey. Thank you so much for sharing and seriously this is helpful on so many levels to many, if not all parents!

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  10. 28

    Tracy@CrazyAsNormal says

    Thanks for the advice – my kids don’t have allergies, but they have a lot of friends who do. If their parents aren’t around to advocate you can bet your sweet bippy I will be standing in the gap!

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  11. 29

    Sue says

    Amen!! I have four children – two of whom have severe food allergies (between the two, they have 17 different allergies – all different, of course). I wholeheartedly agree with every single point made here! We had to go out of state (3 hours) to find an allergist who would help us. As you said, after eight years, it’s “just how we live.”

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  12. 31

    Kathy Radigan says

    Great article!! Our oldest is deathly allergic to peanuts, we found this out when he was 15 months old. Not at all fun!! I agree with everything you say. I will add that my child really became his best advocate. At a very early age he knew to ask, and now that he is a teenager I am a lot more comfortable with him being out in the world because he knows how serious his allergy is. (Of course he always has his benadryl and epi)

    I have always heard about people being mean to peanut moms and I just have to say we have never, ever had a problem at school or anywhere else. Nobody ever said we were ruining their kids life because they couldn’t eat peanut butter around Tom. We took our role as his protector very seriously and always made sure he had an appropriate snack on hand at school in case there was an unplanned birthday party or celebration. I think the one thing that surprised my husband and I the most was how much the kids in his class were always so protective of him. They read labels and I got more than a few calls from parents who would ask me if Tom could have this or that brand. We also got very friendly with the school nurse!! It is such a serious issue, it’s easy to make fun of the “over protective” peanut parent, and I really didn’t want to become “that mom” but after you have ridden in an ambulance with your kid who can’t breathe you quickly get over it!! Thanks again for a great article!

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    • 32

      Jen says

      Thanks Kathy!
      We have had similar experiences with other kids/parents being so thoughtful about his allergies! Even my little niece is always careful to tell people Isaiah can’t have peanuts!

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  13. 33

    Twingle Mommy says

    None of my kids have food allergies but a very good friend’s son is allergic to peanuts. I always made sure he could eat the food and cake I served at our parties since it broke my heart seeing him excluded at other parties. Besides the cake is the best oart if the party to a kid and everyone should get a piece. And I was a frantic cleaner in my kitchen whenever he comes over. I’m so scared something might happen on my watch.

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  14. 35

    Margaret Antosz Vazquez says

    This has been my life since Ben was 6 months old….and it's amazing how much ignorance I have encountered from parents that have kids without allergies. Comments like "I can't believe my kid can't bring a certain snack for their birthday to school because of all those f$%#ing kids with allergies" (yes it was said) bothered me, of course, for a long time. Hmmmm….snack vs life – what a choice! But after a while, I've learned to speak up and tell them point blank that they would probably feel differently if one day their child went to school and they received a phone call that tells them that they have to rush to the emergency room because their child stopped breathing and is in danger of dying…just because they were exposed to OTHER kid's food. Yes, in my case, food CAN kill my son. I didn't ask to have a child with allergies, but he's here and I'm thankful for him every day. Although it's not peanut free, I'm so glad that there is so much awareness in the school that he attends and they make accommodations for kids with allergies. Life's not always fair, but a snack is a small price to pay.

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  15. 37

    Maggie says

    his has been my life since Ben was 6 months old….and it’s amazing how much ignorance I have encountered from parents that have kids without allergies. Comments like “I can’t believe my kid can’t bring a certain snack for their birthday to school because of all those f$%#ing kids with allergies” (yes it was said) bothered me, of course, for a long time. Hmmmm….snack vs life – what a choice! But after a while, I’ve learned to speak up and tell them point blank that they would probably feel differently if one day their child went to school and they received a phone call that tells them that they have to rush to the emergency room because their child stopped breathing and is in danger of dying…just because they were exposed to OTHER kid’s food. Yes, in my case, food CAN kill my son. I didn’t ask to have a child with allergies, but he’s here and I’m thankful for him every day. Although it’s not peanut free, I’m so glad that there is so much awareness in the school that he attends and they make accommodations for kids with allergies. Life’s not always fair, but a snack is a small price to pay.

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  16. 38

    Kristi Campbell says

    Perfect advice, Jen! My son is allergic to nuts and peanuts (and some environmental stuff as well). It’s not a joke and I know what you mean about the husband part. Mine kept buying nuts for a while and said he’d be careful. Then, one day there was a cashew on the floor. I blew a gasket and make him wash his hands and mouth before he touches our kid when he comes home from work b/c I know he’s got his nuts there.

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  17. 39

    Brenda Dion says

    As with so much in life, some people just don’t get it. I think for many of us, it’s hard to wrap our head around a “deadly” food that so many of us consume on a daily basis. Most of us did not grow up with knowing a single person with a life threatening allergy. With that said, I think there has been a culture shift in the last few years or so with more awareness. I firmly believe that it soon will be second nature for everyone to ask and consider food allergies.

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  18. 41

    Sandy Broda says

    I have a child who was diagnosed with peanut allergies while being treated for severe tree pollen allergies. She'd been eating peanuts with absolutely no symptoms for years, so the diagnosis is almost certainly a false positive (not uncommon with food allergies). Had she been tested before she'd eaten peanuts, though, we would have no way to know this. The good news is that there are new tests, still experimental, that should definitively show whether the peanut allergy will cause a problem or not. The potential to save unnecessary worry is tremendous.

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  19. 42

    Stephanie @ Mommy, for Real. says

    Jen, you have such helpful, down-to-earth, succinct advice for parents. You really know your stuff- thanks for sharing with your usual straight-talking style. You rock.

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