This is an Alphapharm sponsored post.
Recently AJ and I were visiting a quiet, local playground with friends. Before too long another mum with two small children arrived. One of the children was eating a sandwich as he walked along; he started playing on the playground equipment, still carrying his sandwich. Our three girls and one other child were sitting together laughing and playing on a large communal swing that my friend and I took turns swinging as we chatted. As the boy walked towards us, I could see my friend look a little anxiously at the sandwich that he held. You see, my friend’s little girl, one of AJ’s dearest playmates, has multiple, extremely severe food allergies. At just two years of age this gorgeous girl has suffered so much already as a result of her allergies – rampant eczema all over her body, rashes, stomach pain, and even at times, swelling of the face and lips. Can you even imagine being not yet two, not yet able to communicate clearly, and feeling your throat closing up? I can’t. Can you imagine being the parent of that small child, always frightened that somehow despite your best efforts to keep them safe that your child’s life could be so easily placed at risk because they are inadvertently exposed to an allergen? I can’t.
Everyday families across the world are facing this very issue. I can’t claim to understand the science behind it but it is clear that the number of food related allergies and severe anaphylactic reactions is on the rise, and having seen just a little of what this one family go through on a daily basis to keep their child safe I get a little upset when I see comments such as, “Why should my child miss out/change their life/be told what to do… because of your child’s problem?”
You know what I say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
I don’t know that there are any perfect answers to this problem. But I do know that I would feel awful if something terrible happened to a child because of something I (or one of my children) did, after all don’t we all share responsibility for keeping our children safe? If you saw a child lost in a crowded fair wouldn’t you ask them if they needed help? If you saw a child struggling in the water at the local pool, you would reach out and lend a hand, right? If you saw a toddler running towards a busy road would you not assist? If you knew a child could die because of a peanut butter sandwich, would you not tell your child to have honey or ham instead?
I would like to think I’m preaching to the converted here but I don’t think it hurts any of us to hear a reminder – severe allergic reactions can kill. And young children (and their families) who are still learning to live with and manage allergies are vulnerable to this risk.
There are things we can all do to help. Here are five of them…
5 Things We Can All Do To Keep Kids With Allergies Safe
1. Take allergies and any notification from childcare, preschool or school about food restrictions seriously. When you don’t have personal experience with food allergies, these restrictions or the elimination of certain foods can be difficult to understand. Just know that they have been put in place to protect children, children who don’t have a choice – other than wanting to live that is.
2. Help our own children learn to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. It’s an important lesson. Help your own children learn to be empathetic by being empathetic and considerate yourself, as your attitude, interactions and friendships are what your children see, mimic and learn from – even more so then your words. Think about what you say and do with regards to your attitude to food allergies, school restrictions and children who suffer. After all, if your child was the one to inadvertently trigger an anaphylactic reaction in a child with an allergy, they would likely feel awful about the experience. The rules are there to protect both children, and children can learn to be compassionate, empathetic and humble as a result of these rules and restrictions.
3. Anaphylactic reactions can result from eating food to which the individual is allergic so always check in before offering food to other children. With young children, ask a parent or primary caregiver if it’s okay. Older children with allergies will generally be very well versed in asking for more information about the food or politely declining.
4. If you are planning a playdate or party that includes children with allergies, ask their parents for tips and/or help in preparing and serving safe foods. These parents will generally be more than happy to help with information or even supplying alternative choices for their child, as just like any parent they are just happy to see their child being included in fun and important social occasions. In all likelihood the child and family dealing with severe food allergies is already feeling a degree of social fear or even isolation – I can’t even imagine how I would deal with managing the risk my child faces every time he or she even leaves the house.
5. When visiting a playground, play centre or other public venue, ask your child to sit down while eating to reduce the likelihood that they will put other children at risk. It’s obviously a good idea for other reasons too!
Finally, raise your hand and get your local school involved in the Raise Your Hand for Anaphylaxis Awareness initiative. A national program aimed at helping Australian school communities to raise awareness of severe or life-threatening allergic reactions, the competition encourages people to virtually “raise their hand” for the chance for their school to win one of two educational grants – one for $10,000 and one for $5,000. The grants are provided specifically to help support ongoing communication and education about life-threatening allergies, and assist in the implementation of educational programs in schools. Individuals can simply raise their hand for their school by visiting the website and selecting the ‘Raise My Hand’ button. The total number of hands raised will determine the winning schools.
As for the sandwich in the playground, it was indeed peanut butter, one of our little friend’s most severe allergens. Fortunately, when my friend asked the little boy’s mother if her child could possibly sit out and stay off the play equipment while he finished eating, she agreed.
Do you have a family member with food allergies?