About a year after my daughter Alexandra was diagnosed with a life-threatening (severe) allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, she was invited to play with a new friend from kindergarten. She was so excited, carefully choosing an outfit — and even a special purse to store her epinephrine auto-injectors (EAIs). When we arrived, Alexandra smiled and said, “Here’s my allergy medicine.” She handed it off to her friend’s mom and skipped into the house. The other mom looked at me with concern.
Of course, I had mentioned Alexandra’s severe allergies over the phone when we set up the playdate. But I hadn’t covered all the details, figuring that I’d fill in the gaps when I got there. I was so used to dealing with severe allergies by that point that I had forgotten how daunting it can be to others.
The good news is that you can help your child safely attend playdates and have a wonderful time — without sending your child’s hosts into the worry zone. Here’s how:
Have the “severe allergy discussion” well before the playdate. Be open, honest, friendly, and concise. Avoid overly detailed and/or frightening stories of your child’s past allergic reactions. Instead, use a matter-of-fact approach. For example: “As you may know, Ryan is severely allergic to milk. In case of accidental exposure, he carries emergency epinephrine auto-injectors at all times. I’d love to have him go to your house to spend time with Jake, but I have to take certain precautions that I’m happy to discuss with you.” Once you have relayed the important information, make sure you invite your child’s hosts to share their questions and concerns.
Make things as easy as possible for the host. Depending on your child’s age, offer to co-chaperone the first playdate and provide any snacks so that the hosts don’t have to hunt down specific foods. (Having a food-free playdate is even better.) As you become more familiar with each other and decide to drop-off, make sure that the other family has your cell-phone number and knows that they can call for questions. It also helps to keep playdates short.
Ask to wipe down toys and other items. Food allergens can make their way not only onto table surfaces, but also onto toys, television remotes, game consoles, and controls via hands. You can mention that washing hands and wiping down shared toys right before the playdate is helpful.
Keep medication in a safe but readily available location. Your child’s EAIs should stay within arm’s reach, and all caregivers should be given a demonstration on how to use them. Make the EAIs easy to spot by storing them in a brightly colored carrier along with a copy of written instructions for them.
With a little extra planning, severe allergies don’t have to keep our children stuck at home. Spending time with friends is something all kids should get to enjoy!