Summer is a great time for kids to get together with friends and have fun. If your child has food allergies, it’s still possible to have wonderful playdates. Here are some things to remember, and some great ideas for fun things to do.
1. Get the Other Parents On Board
Make sure other parents understand your child’s food allergy. Ask for their help in making the playdate safe and fun for everyone. But know they may not always understand if they don’t manage food allergies. Even the most well-meaning people can make mistakes.
2. Avoid Scheduling Playdates During Meal Times
So food will not be a concern, schedule playdates before or after meal times. Many find that 10:30 in the morning or 2:30 in the afternoon are ideal. During the summer, after dinner works well, too. If you schedule it after meal times, ask that the other children wash their hands before the playdate.
3. Host Playdates at Your Home
Hosting playdates in your own home is usually safest from the food allergy perspective. Let the other parents know you’ll provide the snack. Politely stick to a “no outside foods or drinks” rule. Ask them to leave everything other than water in their car.
If the other child has food allergies that are different from your child’s, talk to the other parent about food that is safe for everyone.
4. Stay With Your Young Child for Playdates at Other People’s Homes
When your child is young, it may be best if you stay for the playdate. This way, you can be completely responsible for your child. You can be sure your normal food allergy precautions are taken, and you can be there if other issues arise.
Even if you are going to stay, talk to the other parent about your child’s food allergies. Offer to bring snacks for all of the children, and ask them to wash their children’s hands before you arrive. If your child is still young enough to put everything in their mouth, bring your own toys and blankets from home.
5. Plan Ahead for Drop-Off Playdates at Other People’s Homes
As children get older, they naturally want more independence. By the age of 10 or so, most playdates are drop-off events. Your child may be ready for this when they have shown you they can follow an “only eat food from home” rule and self-advocate when necessary.
If you are not going to stay for the playdate, you must be sure the other parent is willing and able to care for your child. Communication is very important. Talk to the other parent. Get to know them, at least a little. “As you probably know, our child has food allergies. I wanted to talk with you about how our children can have a playdate together.”
Find out if the other parent is willing to learn how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction. If they say yes, teach them. It is best if you can do this before the planned playdate. This way, if they decide they are not willing or able to take care of your child, you can make other plans for the kids to get together.
For this training, go through your child's Anaphylaxis Emergency Action Plan. Use your epinephrine auto-injector trainer to show them how to use the medicine. Talk about steps to take to avoid allergic reactions. Make sure they understand that during the playdate there must be an adult nearby who is prepared to act in an emergency.
Offer to send safe snacks for all of the children, including siblings. When you arrive, give the other parent the safe snacks, as well as the emergency medicine and a quick reminder about how and when to use it. Remind them that if they go anywhere, such as the local park, they need to take the medicine with them. Make sure they have a phone number where they can reach you immediately if they have any questions or concerns.
6. Plan Fun Food-Free Activities
There are lots of great activities that can be enjoyed without food. You just need to ask the other parents in the group for their help in avoiding turning the activity into a “food occasion.”
When choosing a location for summer playdates, trust your gut. Think about which locations are naturally more allergy-friendly than others. For example, the playground at a public park will have less food residue on it than the playground at a local fast food restaurant or pizza parlor. If you decide to go to a local park, you can arrive early to wipe off any obvious food residue that is on the playground equipment. And ask the other parents in your group not to bring or serve food.
Here are some ideas for fun activities that don’t involve food:
- Ride bikes.
- Go hiking.
- Go swimming.
- Fly kites.
- Play board games.
- Watch local events, such as outdoor running races or local sports teams.
- Enjoy the play area at your local mall.
- Go on a “Park Safari” where you spend 45 minutes each at three local parks. Get out different toys (such as balls, sand toys and Frisbees) at each park.
- Attend the kid-friendly workshops hosted by some of the large home improvement stores.
- Paint pottery at the local pottery-painting place.
- Go indoor wall climbing.
- Go roller skating or ice skating at the local rink.
- Go miniature golfing (or putt putt golf).
- Attend summer programs at your local library. Check out some books while you’re there!
- Visit nature centers, state parks and historic sites. Take the guided tour.
- Visit a children’s museum.
- Put on bathing suits and run through the sprinklers.
- Attend your city’s free outdoor summer concerts.
7. Host Random “Parties” At Your House
These are really just playdates. But if you add a theme and call them a party, somehow they seem more fun. Ideas include:
- Squirt Gun Battle – Bathing suits, Super Soakers and a lot of fun.
- Paint with Water – Give each kid a bucket of water and a large paintbrush (the kind you’d use to paint a wall, purchased at the local dollar store), and let them “paint” anything they want outside.
- Chalk Art Festival – Cover the driveway or sidewalk with pictures.
- Build a City – Use whatever crafts supplies you have on hand to turn empty cereal boxes into a miniature city.
- Board Game Day – Everyone brings their favorite board game.
- Lego Build-A-Thon – The kids can work together or separately to make their masterpieces.
- Outdoor Game Day – Play such as hide-and-seek, capture the flag and hopscotch.