I go into my son’s class every year to discuss food allergies. By educating the kids who do not have food allergies themselves, we enlist their help and heighten their compassion for their friends.
This year, I began by asking the kids to raise their hands if they knew anyone with food allergies. Nearly every child raised his/her hand. Not only does my son’s class have at least five allergic kids, but their teacher also has a food allergy. The kids regaled me with stories of relatives and friends who were allergic to everything from peanuts to pollen, from dogs to dyes, and from cats to clams.
We spoke briefly about food allergies and what they are. Considering their age (mostly 6), I briefly touched on a few key points:
- Everybody’s body is different. If you have a food allergy, it just means that you can’t have a particular food or dishes with that food in it. Even a little bit of that food.
- Allergies can make you feel sick. If you have an air allergy (like pollen) it can make your nose sneezy and your eyes itchy. If you have a food allergy, it can make your skin itchy (hives), your lungs cough, and your belly sick.
- To help them stay safe, many kids with food allergies keep special medicine called EpiPens with them, their parents or the school nurse.
We synopsized the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea and continued by reading The Princess and the Peanut Allergy (see review, Book Review: The Princess and the Peanut Allergy). The kids loved it so much they asked that I read it twice.
Afterwards, we all considered how Paula, the allergic character, may have felt when she learned of her friend’s plan to have peanut treats throughout the party. My son bravely spoke up, mentioning how disappointing it is when you can’t eat something that looks delicious while everyone else can. Many others echoed this sentiment.
We discussed what you can do to show you understand your friends with food allergies. All the kids, allergic or not, had fantastic suggestions. They were so thoughtful and considerate!
The class’ interest and questions regarding food allergies really surprised me. I hadn’t wanted to get too in-depth since they are, in fact, in 1st grade. But look at the questions they had for me:
- Why do some people have food allergies? How do they know they have an allergy?
- How do you get better if you have an allergic reaction?
- Can you have more than one food allergy at a time?
- Can you “lose” a food allergy (outgrow one)? Can you switch from being allergic to one food to another ?
This was night-and-day different from last year, when one kindergartener announced his understanding of food allergies like a lightbulb went off in his head. “So,” he began, “if you were allergic to sno-cones and you ate a sno-cone, you could barf up a RAINBOW!”
Not totally incorrect, I guess….