Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Identifying and Recognizing Emotions May 2, 2017

emoji-653309_1920 pixabay

 

As parents, we’re reliant on our children to express themselves.  And as food allergy parents, knowing how they feel is our best barometer for understanding how our kids are handling their food allergies, what’s going on around them vis-a-vis food and friends and what’s on their mind.  And, in order to do that, kids must first be able to recognize and identify those emotions.

 

But how (and when) do we begin?

There’s no such thing as too young to start this conversation.  Whether your kids are 2 or 22, getting in touch with how you’re feeling at a given moment can clarify almost any situation, reduce stress and make way for better decision-making.

 

Here are a few ways to get started:

1.  Puts Words to Feelings:  Let your children know that their emotions have names.  Point out those feelings as you see them.  “It looks like doing art makes you feel calm;” “When your brother takes your toys without asking, that makes you angry;” “Wow, you are really excited about going to the zoo today!”

 

2.  I Second that Emotion:  My own daughter (now 4) gets upset and will say, “I am feeling so mad right now!”  This leads me to a second point: validate their feelings.  Praise your children when they express themselves verbally.  When my daughter tells me she’s mad I usually respond by saying, “I’m sorry you’re mad about something.  BUT, I’m really proud of you for letting me know how you’re feeling.”  This lets her know that being mad is okay.  And, it encourages her to keep talking to me about her emotions.

 

3.  Read, Discuss, Repeat:  Books are great tools for learning and describing emotions as well as helping your child identify the feelings of others.  Some great books to start with are:

Today I Feel Silly, by Jamie Lee Curtis

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, by Jo Witek

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings, by Anna Llenas

The Way I Feel, by Janan Cain

 

But you don’t need a special book to talk about emotions.  Even when reading a child’s favorite, you can help him/her explore and identify how the characters are feeling.  Ask them, “How do you think Madeline felt when she fell from the bridge?”  “Is Trixie happy when she realizes she lost her lovey?” “What is Harry thinking and feeling when he’s living at the Dursley’s?” “How would you feel if you were a firefighter headed to a fire?”  With older kids, you can even pause a movie or TV show and chat about what a character might be experiencing psychologically.

 

4.  Touch Base:  Don’t ignore opportunities to check in with your child about their food allergies.  Parents often need to walk a fine line between acknowledging the pain, exclusion and frustration and keeping things *positive*.  We are quick to brush aside things that cause our kids pain and sadness and paint it over with positivity and sunshine.  But we need to recognize and call out those negative emotions too – because regardless of our rose-colored glasses, our kids are likely experiencing all of the emotions (good and bad) that come along with food allergies.

 

Recently, when my 12 year old son and I learned that his number one favorite treat, Krispy Kreme doughnuts would no longer be safe for him, we stopped to talk about it.  He acknowledged how insanely frustrated he felt and how disappointing this news was.  He felt depressed and disheartened – not over a doughnut exactly but rather over another example of food options that more-often-than-not shrink and exclude him.  After mockingly shaking our fists in rage and putting a name on everything he was feeling, my son was able to move on emotionally and focus on other special desserts he could look forward to.

(more…)

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6 Sensational Books for Kids with Food Allergies December 19, 2016

The holidays are just days away!  Try giving a book that a family with food allergies will treasure.  Or, donate a book to your child’s classroom or school library!

 

Despite the growing number of cases, food allergic kids often feel alone with their allergy. It is so important for kids with food allergies to see this aspect of themselves reflected in literature and elsewhere.  Plus, these books are great teaching tools for both a child with a food allergy as well as their siblings and classmates!

 

1.The Bugabees – Friends with Food Allergies, by Amy Recob
Ages: preschool – 7
bugabees-book
Beautifully and colorfully illustrated, The Bugabees is a story about eight insect friends who each have one of the different Top 8 food allergies.  They talk about their need to stay away from various treats and lightly touch on allergic symptoms they might experience.  Importantly, the bugs each repeat a mantra for kids with food allergies which reinforces that they can have fun without their allergen!  My daughter immediately noted that her brother has food allergies and was singing along with their rhythmic mantra by the end!

 

bugybops-book

2.  The BugyBops – Friends for All Time is the sequel in which the Bugabees friends learn about why their friends avoid certain foods, what an EpiPen is and why it’s important, and what they can do to keep their friends safe.  This is a fantastic companion book to The Bugabees!  I would highly recommend for a classroom visit and school library.
Ages: preschool – 8

 

3. Joey Panda and His Food Allergies Save the Day: A Children’s Book, by Amishi S. Murthy, MD and Vivian Chou, MD
Ages: Preschool – 8
joey-panda-book

Written by two pediatric allergists, the story of Joey Panda – a kid with multiple food allergies who is nervous about his first day of school, a situation that many food allergy families face.  To Joey’s surprise, not only does he find out that many of his new friends are already familiar with food allergies but that he has the knowledge and power to become a superstar.  This is story that acknowledges a child’s fears about going to a new school with food allergies and turns it into a story of empowerment.  Just the kind I love!

 

4.  The Peanut Pickle, A Story About Peanut Allergy, by Jessica Jacobs
Ages: 3-8

peanut-pickle-book

Ben has a peanut allergy.  Sometimes he finds it hard to talk about.  But now that he’s six, he’s finding ways to tell family and friends about his food allergy.  Kids with food allergies will recognize themselves in Ben and the situations he faces – important for children who often feel alone with their allergy.  This is a great book for your child to practice what to say to keep him or herself safe.

 

5.  The Princess and the Peanut Allergy, by Wendy McClure
Ages: 5-9
The Princess and the Peanut Allergy

Centered around two best friends, Paula and Regina.  Regina wants a nut-laden cake for her birthday.  Her friend, Paula is allergic to peanuts – causing problems for them both.  The girls have an argument that is ultimately resolved when Regina realizes that having her nut-filled cake may compromise her friendship with Paula.  And, Regina surprises her friend by ordering her birthday cake nut-free.  The princess and pea analogy used to enlighten Regina works as a way of explaining that even the smallest bit of peanut could be extremely harmful to someone who is allergic to them.  Importantly, the book addresses some of the social issues that can arise from having a food allergy and helps articulate conflict resolution in an age-appropriate way.

 

6.  The Peanut-Free Cafe, by Gloria Koster
Ages: 5-9Grant is a new student at the Nutley School – where everyone enjoys PB&J at lunch. As a result, he’s forced to eat by himself at a peanut-free table.  In an effort get to know him, the school offers an irresistible peanut-free cafe for anyone willing to give up their peanut butter.  This story is clever and the idea of a creating a peanut-free cafe at our house and at his school greatly excited my son!

 

 

 

(Thank you in advance! A portion of the proceeds of affiliate links go toward AllergyStrong.org – an organization aimed at helping at risk families with food allergies.)

 

The Ins and Outs of Reading Food Labels August 23, 2016

Filed under: Books and Literature,Parent Sanity,Preparedness,School — malawer @ 9:30 am

 

Here’s the latest article I wrote for Allergy & Asthma Today (Fall 2016), a publication from Allergy and Asthma Network.

 

Look at the beautiful layout and graphics here:  The Ins and Outs of Reading Food Labels.  And, check out the full issue, featuring Sarah Jessica Parker here:  Allergy & Asthma Today, Fall 2016.


 

Hibiscus Popsicle, uploaded by JohnnyMrNinja, author Joey  

 

When my son was in first grade, he joined his class in celebrating the completion of a school-wide charity project. All the students were so proud and the faculty even more so. The teachers planned to reward the students with popsicles — just the kind of unexpected treat kids live for!

 

Knowing my son’s food allergies, the teacher went to the administrative offices to check the ingredients. The coordinator read off the ingredient list one by one, all safe relative to my son’s peanut, tree nut and dairy allergies. And then she read a final statement, “Contains trace amounts of milk…”

 

“So that should be fine,” the coordinator said.

 

“NO!” replied his teacher, who also has food allergies. “He’s allergic to dairy! Milk is dairy!”

 

My son avoided an allergic reaction that day thanks to his teacher’s quick thinking and familiarity with reading food labels.

 

Many parents, teachers, school nurses and administrators are called upon to make food allergy decisions based on food labels. Deciphering ingredients and warning statements can sometimes feel like reading a foreign language.

 

Understanding the requirements that govern food allergy labeling makes those decisions much easier. In 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) went into effect with the goal of improving food labeling information for families with food allergies.

 

  1. Under FALCPA, companies are required to label the top 8 allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. These account for 90% of food allergy reactions in the U.S.

 

  1.  FALCPA also requires companies to label any ingredients made with proteins derived from those allergens.

 

  1.  This law gives manufacturers a choice of how to label the food source allergen.  They can either: 1)  List the allergen in the ingredient list, such as “whey (milk) or lecithin (soy)”; or 2) Use a “Contains” statement, such as “Contains tree nuts, eggs and shellfish.”

 

  1. Manufacturers might use the same facility or equipment to produce two different food products, and if one is an allergen, there is potential for cross-contact. If the manufacturer thinks there’s a chance an allergen may be present in a food product, they can voluntarily put a “May contain…” or “Made in a facility with…” statement. For example, a soy milk label might say “May contain tree nuts” if it was produced on the same equipment as almond milk.

You’ll need to be extra diligent when reading labels to avoid an ingredient outside of the top 8 allergens. Learn alternative names for your allergen that manufacturers sometimes use. For example, sesame seeds may be listed as “tahini” (which is sesame paste), benne seed or generically as “spices.”

Because manufacturers change their ingredients and production methods all the time and without warning, it is very important to read the labels every time you purchase an item.

And if you’re unsure about what’s in a food product but still want to purchase it, call the manufacturer.

AAT Fall 2016

 

 

A Little More Halloween Magic with The Switch Witch October 19, 2015

Let’s face it:  candy makes Halloween magical for most kids.  As a kid, when else do your parents let you go out after dark and collect candy from your neighbors?  It’s heaven!

Unless you have food allergies.  And then it’s fraught with danger and uncertainty.  Not only is candy laden with dairy and nuts, but wheat, soy and eggs are all potential pitfalls for families with food allergies.  Ingredient lists are often missing – or extremely hard to read – on small, packaged candy.  And what may be safe to eat in a larger size is sometimes no longer safe when miniaturized due to manufacturing practices. Even when candy does not contain a particular allergen, it’s often processed on equipment that poses a risk.

Nothing is more fun-ending for a kid than realizing most of your candy isn’t safe to enjoy – except, of course, having a food allergy reaction.  There have been many years when my son’s “Trade” pile was larger than his “Keep.”

Switch Witch

Enter The Switch Witch.  At bedtime on Halloween night, tired and over-sugared kids can leave a heap of their Halloween candy out with their Switch Witch doll.  While they’re sleeping, the Switch Witch trades their stash for a special gift.  It’s brilliant!  Whether, like us, you have a child with food allergies whose Halloween candy isn’t safe for him or -also like us- your kids are just super-stellar candy collectors who have amassed way too much unhealthy sugar, the Switch Witch extends the excitement of Halloween.  This is a great way for food allergic children to have fun trick-or-treating, knowing that their milk and nut-filled loot will be traded for a satisfying surprise.

I’m getting on board this craze now!  It’s sure to be fun for ALL my kids.

 

[I feel like I need to say it for the record, but I get nothing from the genius that is Switch Witch.  This is not a sponsored post.  There are affiliate links within the article – a portion of which will benefit AllergyStrong, an organization that supports at-risk and low income families with food allergies.  Thank you and enjoy!]

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Back to School Again! August 29, 2012

It’s that time again!  Some of you have already gone back to school while the rest of us are still preparing.  Now’s a great time to renew prescriptions for EpiPens and inhalers you may need to leave with the school nurse.  I’m republishing my post from last year which outlines my back-to-school process; including storing medications, ensuring safe snacks for my son, and preparing for special in-class celebrations.

 

Good luck to everyone on their first week!

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Starting a new school can be so exciting.  But it can also be daunting if you have a child with food allergies.  For some parents, this is the first time your child will be given food without your supervision.  And for others, it’s a point of transition to a new system for handling food allergies.  In both cases, it can be stressful.  But there’s a way to ease those nerves. Here’s how I would recommend handling everything to start your child’s year off right.

 
 

Understand Protocol:  First of all, talk to the school about your child’s food allergies and how they handle food allergies in general. It’s important to understand the standard procedures they have in place.

 

Store Emergency Medications:  Next, get a refill on your child’s EpiPens and keep them in their original packaging (most schools require this).  Keep two EpiPens at school (I kept ours in the classroom or at the nurse’s office) along with Children’s Benadryl.  Make a list of your child’s triggers and made a note of any symptoms he may have experienced to inform the teacher about his reactions.  In some cases, I didn’t know what my son’s reaction might be (thank goodness) so I deferred to my son’s pediatrician and allergist to give me a list of general reactions to look out for.

 

Ensure Safe Snack and Lunchtime:  Arrange a time to speak to your child’s teacher about snack and lunch.  Understand the process and how to work within it.  In my son’s case, the school provided snacks.  This originally horrified me.  I was uncomfortable about having the school give him snacks that I didn’t choose, but didn’t want him to feel left out if everyone was eating graham crackers and he was having rice cakes.  Thankfully, the school had a set snack list.  And, my son’s teacher took me through their snack closet and let me read the ingredients of every snack they provided.  Turns out he could safely eat eight of the ten snacks they regularly provided.  The teacher made a note of the two unsafe snacks and we agreed to substitute with a safe alternative on those days.

-OR- Leave a bag of safe snacks in the classroom for your child to choose from each day if that’s easier. Your child would probably be just as happy with that if you load up the safe snack bin with his/her favorites. Ask the teacher to let you know when you need to refill.

 

Prepare for Special Occassions:  Ask the teacher to alert you when in-class birthdays will be celebrated as well as any food-related holidays (think Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc).  I send in a SAFE alternative on those days or keep one in class depending on the class/teacher (and it doesn’t have to be cupcakes!  For example, my son loves Golden Oreos and considers them a special treat).  But the teacher NEEDS to keep you posted on that stuff or it can result in a lot of disappointment.  **I would also make yourself available to parents who are planning these parties if they need safe snack suggestions.**

 

Inform and Practice Social Situations for Food Safety:  Now’s a great time to talk to your child/refresh her knowledge about her food allergy in some basic terms.  It’s a good time to check out the books recommended here: Food Allergy Books For Young Children and here:  Helping Toddlers Understand Their Nut Allergies.  Arm him/her with some words to politely decline sharing offers and remind him to ask his teacher if he’s not sure of the safety of something.  Have your child practice with you so they feel more comfortable using these techniques at school.

 

Educate Peers:  Offer to inform the other students in your child’s class about food allergies.  Educating your child’s peers will empower them to keep him/her safe as well.  Many kids have no experience with food allergies at all.  Bring in a book about food allergies along with a safe snack for everyone to share.  Let them ask questions and let your child help answer some of those questions.  My son’s classmates were so supportive once they understood he couldn’t always share the snacks provided.  In several instances, his close friends offered to eat some of his safe snacks in solidarity with him during class parties.  And, by the way, nearly all of his pals now love Golden Oreos as a result.  And some classmates, will ask their parents NOT to pack peanut butter/nuts so they can safely sit next to my son at lunch.  How wonderful!

 

I hope my on-the-ground experience helps alleviate a little of those back-to-school jitters and gives you some ideas of how to proceed at your school.  I was nervous at first when my son began school, but it’s been great — allergies and all!

 

Book Review: The Peanut-Free Cafe May 16, 2012

 

Hey, bookies!  I just read The Peanut-Free Cafe by  Gloria Koster.  It’s a story about a new student at the Nutley School, where everyone enjoys PB&J at lunch, forcing the peanut-allergic new kid to eat by himself at a  peanut-free table.  In an effort get to know him, the school offers an irresistible peanut-free cafe for anyone willing to give up their peanut butter.

 

The story is clever and the idea of a creating a peanut-free cafe at our house greatly excited my son (as if my house isn’t ALWAYS a peanut-free cafe, but who’s counting…).  However, I would have liked it better if the story focused more on Grant, the child with the peanut-allergy, and his feelings rather than the kids who are able to eat regularly.

 

Kids with food allergies are  looking to see parts of themselves reflected in the media and literature.  And, while my son appeared ready to connect with the Grant, his relationship with the character and plot faded rather quickly as it more prominently focused on a child without food allergies.

 

That said, I think this is a great book to have in school libraries.  It should teach students a bit about what kids with food allergies go through and inspire compassion.   The librarian at my son’s school already ordered a copy earlier this year and the book is constantly checked out.

 

Empowering Elementary Schoolers November 20, 2011

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….