5 Steps For Navigating Playdates With Your Food Allergic Child
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So your little one has food allergies, and you’re wondering how food allergies affect going to other people’s homes.
This is the post for you!
First of all, I’ve been where you are. I know the fear and uncertainty, but I want to share what I’ve learned so you don’t have to go through it alone like I did. So when you’re asked for that first playdate after your little one is diagnosed with food allergies, you’ll know what to do.
1. Start with humility and graciousness.
Keep in mind that the idea of food allergies is likely new to whomever is having you over. I know you know this, because it’s likely new to you too; but it doesn’t hurt to mention that the tone of how all this goes down is really important.
Don’t try and scare them into accommodating your little one. If they don’t seem receptive, then this may not be the best friend to hang out with anyway. But keeping a kind, matter of fact tone when talking about food allergies will help you in the long run. And don’t forget to THANK them for any accommodations they make. By being overly gracious, it will make them want to do it again and again (despite the extra work). My hubby always says, it’s easier to attract bees with honey than vinegar; and as hard as it is sometimes, I have to agree. So keep the tone positive, humble and gracious.
2. Figure out the stage your child is in.
This is important so you know how many precautions you need to take. Here are a few questions that will help you figure out the answer:
How old is your little one? Are they old enough to play in another room without you (with or without allergens)?
Do they put toys or other objects in their mouths? If they’re past that stage, then do they still put their hands in their mouths?
Does your child understand never to eat anything that they’re not sure of AND that they need to wash their hands before eating?
Can your child read labels and do they regularly check if products are safe (even if you do a double check) by looking at the label?
The answers to these questions will help you determine how to handle the playdate and what you need to talk to the host about.
3. Talk to the playdate host about the play area.
First of all I want you to know where I’m coming from and why this is important. I’ve made my share of mistakes. When my daughter was a toddler, she had a reaction to traces of peanut butter in the playroom of someone else’s home. Unfortunately, it was because I didn’t know that this could be a problem. So although I told the host about our allergies, I failed to ask about whether their family eats in the playroom and if there could be traces of allergens there. Read about this and other mistakes I’ve made here.
I don’t tell you that to scare you, but instead, I hope you can skip the uncertainty altogether and know that it IS important to talk with the playdate host to get details about where they eat in their home. I know this can be super awkward at first, but after a few times, it will become second nature!
How much detail you go into with the host will depend on your answers to the questions above and the stage your child is at. So if your LO is still putting random things or their hands in their mouth or they touch their eyes, nose or mouth a lot you want to be especially careful.
To help you out, I came up with a template you can cut and paste into a text or email (or even mention in person):
My LO has a severe food allergy to ___________, which means that even small traces of these foods can cause a serious reaction. Because (child’s name) is in the “mouthing” stage, can you tell me if your family eats in your playroom or near the toys? If so, let me know so I know what precautions to take for our playdate.
If there ARE traces of your LO’s allergen in the toy-room, you have a couple of options. You could ask to play in another area, OR you could invite them to your house instead.
If your little doesn’t put things or hands in their mouths, it’s still important to teach them about washing/wiping their hands before eating too.
If your little one does NOT put things in their mouth (they’ve outgrown this stage OR they just don’t do it), then it may not be quite as difficult. You can decide if you feel confident enough in their habits and whether you want to talk to the playdate host about food in their playroom.
** NOTE: You may be wondering about when you can let your allergic child go on a playdate BY THEMSELVES.
This is kid dependent and will depend on a few key questions. Do they wash their hands before eating, every time? Can they read and are they good about asking to read ingredient labels and mentioning their allergies to others? Do they carry their epinephrine all the time, without fail? Do they go by the rule, no epinephrine, no eating? If you answered yes to all of these (OR you’ve talked to and trust the other parent enough to either take care of or watch that they do these things), then they’re likely ready to try it.
*If your child is going alone, it’s extra important to make sure that the parent watching the kids understands your child’s emergency plan and knows how to administer the epinephrine injector (other than your child).
4. Figure out the food allergy snacks.
Now that you’ve figured out what the area holds for your little, you’ll want to figure out the snack part of the playdate. My preference was to bring safe snacks that we could share with the other family. I know this can get burdensome for you after awhile, but I started to do “bulk baking” sessions where I would make large batches of safe muffins, cookies, loaves or other items and freeze half for playdates.
If worse comes to worse and I was out of everything, I could always wash and cut up some oranges or bananas. They’re so easy because of their natural “packaging”!
I found that bringing the snack just made things easier for everyone since then the host didn’t have to search for safe snacks or try and make something. Because that is a WHOLE other conversation that needs to happen! One thing at at time ;)
Make sure to wipe the eating area down before any snack and always wash hands before eating too.
5. Don’t forget the epinephrine and anaphylaxis plan.
It’s so important to take your epinephrine and emergency plan with your wherever you and your child go. The emergency plan will give you the confidence to know what to do if signs of a reaction started to show up and the Epipen could save your child’s life. Don’t leave home without these two things!
All that being said, I encourage you not to be afraid to get out at this stage. Of course, be careful of surroundings, but you and your kiddo CAN enjoy time with friends outside your home. It just takes planning, teaching, and some precautionary steps. But I believe that it’s important that you learn how to take care of your littles in these situations so you can both make friends and visit them without anxiety or worry.
If your playdate host is super keen, feel free to share this post I did called How To Host Kids With Food Allergies. They’ll get the important tips they need!
Does this blog post help you feel confident navigating a playdate with food allergies? Let me know in the comments the best tip you learned from this post. I’d love to know!