I’ll admit it: when my son was first invited to go on play dates without me, I was nervous. Okay, I was panicked. It would be one of the first times my son was being fed outside of my supervision or in the nut-free safety of his preschool. Our first drop-off play date was at the house of a family with whom we had spent a lot of time. This was as much to comfort me as it was for my son. Before dropping him off, I called the mother and discussed my child’s food allergies and was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to set up a carefree play date.
It’s wonderful watching your child grow and develop friendships. Play dates are an integral part of that experience. To have a successful play date away from home, I would suggest considering the following:
- Talk about food choices that you know are safe – and BE BRAND SPECIFIC. The hostess of our playdate had planned to feed the kids lunch and we discussed a variety of safe meal options. Once decided (we chose chicken nuggets and noodles), I asked if she minded if I emailed her the brand names of the pasta and nuggets that were safe for my son, since some others contained unsafe ingredients.
- Bring safe snacks for the kids to share. Consider it a hostess gift! We brought two of my son’s favorite snacks which were voraciously devoured. To this day (3 years later) these items are always on-hand at her house for my child or others with similar allergies.
- Discuss commonly encountered scenarios with the other parent and how to handle them. You know your child and can predict if he/she will, for example, eat strange objects off the floor, grab food without asking, or throw a fit if certain safe foods aren’t available. Give them words to handle these encounters. “I know you can have some kinds of cookies, Billy. But since I’m not sure these are safe, let’s wait until your mommy comes before I give one to you.”
- This is a good time to discuss good playdate behavior with your child, especially how THEY should handle food issues. This includes rules about eating only off your own plate, asking if foods are safe, speaking to the host parent if something doesn’t feel right and general expectations of safe food availability. “Joey’s house doesn’t have soy milk, so why don’t you drink water while you’re there today and we’ll get a yummy glass of milk when I pick you up.”
- DROP OFF YOUR EMERGENCY ON-THE-GO Pack (http://shmallergy.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/emergency-on-the-go-pack/) or EPIPENS with your child- AND demonstrate with the trainer EpiPen how to use them should an emergency occur. Explain the symptoms of anaphylaxis so hosts know what to look for.
My son had a fantastic time on his first play date – and on many more since! Turns out, most other parents are more tuned in than you think. I should have been more nervous about my son wetting his pants (which he did! Oops!) than having an allergic reaction. It’s comforting to know that other parents are just as concerned about your child’s safety as you are. Keeping your son or daughter safe while independent from you is not only practical, but should be the goal for every parent of a food-allergic child.