We thank Enjoy Life Foods for sponsoring this blog post to help us share information about keeping kids with food allergies safe and included.
The school year is well underway. That often means making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. Existing friendships can also change over time. Friends who understand your child's food allergies can be an important part of their safety net. Children, especially adolescents and young adults, with supportive friends are less likely to take part in food allergy-related risky behaviors.¹
Make New Friends but Keep the Old
Maintaining friendships can become challenging, especially as children get older. Friends can lose touch over summer break, be in different classes when the new school year starts and have changing interests. A good friend is one who respects your child and their interests. An ally understands keeping your child safe from food allergies. Sometimes these friendships wax and wane. You can help your child stay connected to existing friends. Talk to your child or the other child's parent about ways your children can get together outside of school. If their interests are changing, find ways to foster a new common interest.
Introduce Yourself to the Parents of New Friends
New friendships can be exciting. Once your child has made a new friend, it's a good idea to meet their parents. For younger children, try planning a safe, fun outing or playdate. This can allow you to get to know the parents while your children play.
If you have an older, more independent child, it's still important to meet the friend’s parents. This is an opportunity to let the parents know about your child's food allergy. Ask for their help to keep your child safe. If the parents are not familiar with food allergies, provide some educational resources:
- Babysitting and Drop Off Form – this handout teaches how to prevent, recognize and treat allergic reactions. It contains important food allergy management facts. It also has a section to fill in about your child.
- What's the Big Deal About Food Allergies – this handout explains food allergy basics.
Depending on your comfort level, you may allow your child to eat at the friend’s house. You can suggest safe snacks that can be kept on hand at the friend's house. Discuss how to avoid cross contact of safe foods with allergens.
Empower Your Child to Teach Their Friends
As children get older, self-advocacy for their own safety is very important. Teenagers in particular need to be empowered to stand up for themselves to ask for what they need to manage their food allergies. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in can cause children to hide their allergy, not carry their epinephrine and try risky foods.
From a young age, teach your child how to talk to their friends about their food allergy. This can help their friends understand why it’s important to read labels, ask about ingredients in food, and choose safer locations and activities. Even young children can help friends, classmates, teachers and school staff better understand food allergies.
Watch for Signs of Food Allergy Bullying
Sometimes with a new friend group, there can be challenges, including bullying. It’s important to recognize the signs and talk to your child about food allergy bullying. Work with your child’s school to help raise food allergy awareness and understanding throughout the school. Download a copy of our Teal Classroom™ Kit to give to your child’s teacher or the school nurse.
1. Warren, C. M., Dyer, A. A., Otto, A. K., Smith, B. M., Kauke, K., Dinakar, C., & Gupta, R. S. (2017). Food Allergy–Related Risk-Taking and Management Behaviors Among Adolescents and Young Adults. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice,5(2). doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2016.12.012