Parenting children with allergies does come with challenges, but the feelings need not be overwhelming. Sarah Huddy shares practical tips on how to successfully manage your child’s allergies.
If your child has been diagnosed with allergies, they will have had an allergic reaction to a substance which would otherwise not affect most people. Substances that cause allergic reactions are called allergens, and can be found in our environment and food. The severity of allergies varies between people, and ranges from a minor irritation to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
When allergies are treated effectively, they should not prevent your child from living a normal life. You can empower your child by teaching them how to manage their allergies. Don’t let fear hold them back, as it will only lead to feelings of isolation. Enjoy everyday activities including school, parties and play dates, by following these helpful tips.
Create an action plan
Work with your allergist to learn how to manage your child’s allergies and create a written plan that sets out what to do in case of an allergic reaction. Inform family, friends and caregivers of your child’s allergies. If required, purchase a medical alert bracelet with particulars of your child’s condition and emergency details.
Take some extra time to plan ahead when eating out or going on holiday. Confirm with the restaurant beforehand whether they serve allergen-safe meals, for example. Keep all medications at the ready, which may include an adrenaline auto-injector, Epipen®, and antihistamines.
Keep looking forward
Accidents happen, and your child may suffer an allergic reaction. If not life threatening, see it as a learning opportunity and get back to normal life as quickly as possible. Focus on the positives, and be reassured that you are not alone and millions of people successfully live with allergies.
Involve your child
It is not possible to always be by your child’s side monitoring their environment and what they eat. You need to provide them with the necessary tools so that they feel confident to manage their allergies on their own. By teaching your child the following valuable skills, you not only empower them but also provide yourself with some reassurance and comfort.
Wash your hands
Washing hands with soap and water reduces the risk of exposure to allergens. Teach your child to wash their hands before and after contact with food and pets. Hand sanitisers are not effective at removing allergens. Cleaning with liquid or bar soap and running water is best, and wet wipes are a good alternative. Keep a pack of wipes at the ready in your hand-bag and your child’s school-bag.
Parents and children should not feel shy to ask questions which help to manage their allergies better. Your child must be encouraged to ask their friends if their snacks contain allergens before eating them, for example.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to say something. If your child is feeling unsure about a situation or starting to feel unwell, they must find and tell an adult to get help. They should never feel embarrassed to speak up and always be reassured that they took the right action, even if it turns out to be a false alarm.
Preparing for school
Sending your child to nursery school or day care for the first time is an exciting and emotional experience, and can also prove to be particularly stressful if your child has allergies. Fortunately, with the support and understanding of teachers and staff, your child will have many happy school days ahead of them.
When choosing a school, ask if they have any existing policies in place to manage allergies and will adopt an action plan for your child’s care. Inform the school of your child’s specific needs, and keep them up to date with information about their allergies.
All staff members who come into contact with your child should be informed about how to prevent accidental exposure and to recognise and treat the symptoms of an allergic reaction. A written action plan should be easily accessible, along with your child’s emergency medication and parent contact details.
Provide allergen-free snacks for the teacher to keep in the classroom for your child. In this way they can still participate in special occasions such as baker’s day or birthday rings. What is important is keeping your child safe, without forgetting that they still want to feel normal and be part of the fun.
Children with allergies should not have to feel left out when it comes to celebrating birthdays. Instead of refusing a party pack, let them be part of the fun and rather trade unsafe items with you for safe treats. Pack your own allergen-free cake and snacks, which your child can eat along with their friends.
Let them play
Having fun with your friends is part of being a child, and allergies should not have to get in the way of the excitement of play dates. Join your child for their first play date so that you can meet the host parent or caregiver, and talk to them about your child’s allergies. Explain what your child should not come into contact with, any warning signs of a potential reaction, demonstrate how to administer any medications, and provide contact details in case of an emergency.
If your child has food allergies, ask what food will be eaten at the play date and check that it is free of allergens and whether there is a risk of cross-contamination in the home. Offer to bring along food you know is safe for your child to eat.
Discuss your child’s progress during regular check-ups with your allergist, to maintain an effective action plan as they development. Your child may outgrow their allergies, or live with them their entire lives. With the right support and advice, allergies do not have to be a barrier to a happy childhood.