How to Talk to Your Kids About Food Allergies and Inclusion
If you aren't the parent of a child who has severe food allergies, you may be wondering what this topic has to do with anything Biblical. The fact is that many parents spend a huge amount of time protecting their children from the hidden dangers that seemingly harmless food items can cause. Reading every label, asking to speak to a restaurant manager before sitting at the table, and providing education to all caregivers is something that these parents do without hesitation. There are many Bible verses about raising up and protecting our kids. Danger can sometimes be classified as something spiritual, but many times danger also encompasses the physical. Perhaps a surprising fact to some, a child with food allergies can actually die from complications if mom, dad, teacher or caregiver don't take the necessary daily precautions to ensure their safety. I can't think of any better word to define such daily acts of protection, other than LOVE.
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Kids who have allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, dairy, shellfish or gluten learn early on the importance of how live within their limitations because it can be a matter of life or death. Most are taught by the time they're in preschool how to avoid the foods which will hurt them. Even at this young of an age, they are keenly aware that they can not go anywhere unless an adult accompanying them is carrying their epinephrine pens, oral antihistamines, and an inhaler. This medication arsenal is just something that is taken wherever they go...in case of exposure. But what do the other kids--or even adults-- think about these weird dietary restrictions and precautions? Are kids sometimes ostracized because they can't eat what other kids eat?
As the mother of a child with a life threatening food allergy, I appreciate the openness of other adults who want to learn how to protect my son when he's at their house or if they cook food for a gathering, which he'll be exposed to. Actually "appreciate" is too mild of a word. I want to physically hug these wonderful people to express my sincerest gratitude, because for a long time people (even relatives) took my son's food allergies pretty lightly, even to the point of ignoring simple requests to ensure his safety and my peace of mind. We missed several parties over the years because the risk of exposure was simply too great to ignore.
We must lovingly educate our kids about a few safety precautions. First, for our kids who DON'T have food allergies, remind them that it's best if they don't share or trade their food with another friend, in case there is a food allergy present. School age kids who DO have allergies need to be reminded to not eat any food with unknown ingredients or known to contain (or may contain) any allergen to which they are sensitive. This includes foods at any classroom, church or birthday party.
When we talk to our kids about food allergies, we must reassure them that other children who may have a special diet are still just regular kids in most other ways! God created us all to be a little different. In His eyes we are all wonderful in our uniqueness. Our friend may not be able to drink milk or eat eggs, but she likes to play the same games, and watch the same shows that we like. She likes to dance and swim and ride her bike. It's okay to invite our friend over after school, and it's definitely okay to invite he or she to a birthday party! We can help our kids grow into caring adults when they see us take the extra time to talk to the parents of their friends, ensuring that we can provide a safe environment for everyone.
If you are the parent in charge of bringing in food for a class or church gathering, it's such a loving gesture to ask if there are any known food allergies which you should be aware of. Perhaps you can bring in gluten free cupcakes, a fruit platter or fresh veggies and dip. Making these simple additions to party planning enables everyone to feel included. Inclusion is such an important life lesson to give our children, especially with the prevalence of bullying going on these days.
It has become pretty common to have kids with food allergies in almost every classroom. Most schools have standards in place to help keep kids safe. But I urge the parents of kids with food allergies to continue to educate people in authority positions in their churches and any club that kids belong to. Two great sites for resources and downloads are the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and the Food Allergy Initiative.
Lisa Strnad is an independent contractor in Christian media as a writer, marketing consultant, and public relations specialist. She speaks to Christian women's groups on the issues of motherhood, home schooling and raising a child with special needs. Lisa and her family make their home in Nashville.