Claudia owner of Zero Bites has kindly shared her story of being a parent of a child with a severe allergy. I must say it has opened my eyes to the true angst that parents and children living with allergies endure. Here is her story
Admittedly we knew very little about allergy management and the impact of having a child with
allergies upon a family. Our older children never endured intolerance’s or life threatening allergies. It
wasn’t until our third child was diagnosed with severe allergies that we were forced to consider the
challenges of raising an allergic child. Safeguarding a child with allergies is a multi dimensional and
complex process. What is considered safe for most children can be a battlefield to navigate,
with potential life threatening consequences for allergy sufferers.
The early years…
The early years are stressful as a new parent learning the ropes. It eventually becomes a little easier,
and even the new norm, providing control and containment over the risks of allergen exposure are
maintained. Child-care centres are well equipped to monitor and deal with allergies but fears will start
to creep in for a parent when school starts. This is the time when allergies complicate even the simplest
Surprisingly not all schools implement nut free or allergen free food policies. Suddenly you are faced
with the prospect of food swapping between children and cross contamination in the playground.
These fears are heightened when food is brought into school to share for class birthday celebrations
and not ever really knowing what’s in the home made/store bought treats. School social events and
birthday parties are also a place where ‘dangerous’ food thrives for an allergy sufferer. Play dates
and eating out require lots of open communication, careful planning and strategic management.
These issues increase as your child grows and becomes independent and less likely to be under the
watchful eyes of a parent.
The mental and social effects…
Food allergies can have a significant impact on a child’s mental health. Feelings of anxiety, social
isolation and fears of being singled out are common for allergic children. These may come about in many
ways. Play dates may not be forthcoming, as parents are concerned with the risks of having an
allergic child in their care; birthday parties may be missed or a child is singled out because they have
‘special food’ or are seated separately to eat, all examples of over caution resulting in exclusion.
We have experienced this to the point where our daughter could no longer communicate freely with
other children and adults and literally couldn’t get her words out and was silent. This took
management of her allergies to a whole new dimension as she wasn’t able to verbalise and express
symptoms she was having or be able to check if food was safe for her to eat. This coincided for us
right at the time between kindergarten and school.
This challenged us in new ways and we tried different strategies to address these issues. It is always
surprising how little people (who are not effected by) appreciate and understand allergies, even more
so given the high prevalence of kids and adults that are impacted. Essentially this all comes down to
improving education and teaching others about safe eating, how to prevent contamination and
respond to issues should they arise.
What we do to manage our daughters allergies:
1) We ensure those who are caring for her understand potential triggers i.e. what she’s allergic to, what the symptoms may look like and how to follow her anaphylaxis plan including knowing who to call for help (should the need arise).
2) Where there is a risk of unsafe food, we provide her with a lunchbox full of safe choices. Some
parents are truly amazing and will go above and beyond to support her needs with the right food on
hand whilst she is in their care. We have also taught her to always check food she is offered and if
she has not eaten the food before to say no thank you.
3) When she started school we met with the assistant principal and her teachers to teach them about safe food choices for her.
4) At this time we were also dealing with her inability to communicate to others and implemented different strategies together with the school to safeguard her well-being. As an example we had picture cards that she could use to communicate (e.g. not feeling well) and made sure there was a special friend that she could always communicate through to others.
5) We try and organise play dates at home to make this easier for everyone and when we eat out we check it is
food she has had before or if in doubt we BYO for her and contact the restaurant to advise them
ahead of time.
The Learning Curve…
It has been a steep learning curve for us, our children, family, friends and teachers – I imagine as
time passes by some elements of managing allergies will become simpler whilst new challenges will
pop up. For instance, raising teenagers with allergies introduces new risks, as they are the highest
risk group for fatal, food triggered anaphylactic reactions.
I am sure we will continue to worry endlessly whether she will be safe around food and equipped to manage these and related peer pressures on her own…
For now all we can do is continue to educate her and others around us to understand and carefully
manage the risks and raise the level of awareness within our communities.
Free Educational Resource Links:
Whilst on this journey of navigating safe healthy foods, Claudia started her own organic snack business Zero Bites, you can read more of her story here