Can birthday parties still be fun?
Hands up if you love birthday parties! I know I love a good party!
What about now that you are managing allergies?
One of the first things that comes up when talking to individuals with allergies or families managing allergies are birthday parties. They use to be a source of fun, excitement and most likely too much sugar and preservatives….all the good things in life really! Now they are dreaded, more stress, worry and questions than they are worth. Whether it be severe food allergies, to eczema flair ups or even a party at a house full of cats where your child’s hayfever could run out of control, all allergic conditions can be difficult to manage when it comes to parties.
Attending parties and celebrating someone’s birthday is a wonderful experience that no child or adult should have to miss out on simply because of their allergies. So the question then becomes how you can best manage parties to ensure you and your child have fun and remain safe.
In this blog post we will go through a few of the main questions that may run through your head when you think of birthday parties and allergies and how you can address them. It is important to remember that every family manages their allergies differently and has to choose the risks they are willing and not willing to take when it comes to their child’s or their own allergies, these are just some helpful guidelines.
- Do you let them go?
- Do you inform the family about your child’s allergies?
- How do you inform them?
- Do you expect others to accommodate allergies?
- How can you effectively communicate about allergies?
- Do you go stay at the party?
- How do you communicate with your child so they aren’t scared and anxious and can still have a good time? This one is so big it deserves a blog post all of its own.
- How do I manage the party without everyone thinking I am a crazed helicopter parent?
Some helpful tips
In this blog post we will cover off the first 5 questions and follow up with a second blog post for questions six through to eight.
Do you let them go at all?
YES! Who doesn’t want to go to a party?! Ideally your answer will be yes, if you can make the time and date and your child is keen to go. Although a fair bit of preparation is required to make sure the environment can be as safe as possible.
Do you inform the host about your child’s allergies?
YES! It is important to inform others of allergies for a number of reasons.
- Safety – people need to be aware of allergies in order to keep you or your child safe and to assist, know where the medication is etc., if and when someone experience an allergic reaction.
- Respect and understanding – if you let people know about allergies you give them a chance to be understanding and accommodating. They will understand if you or your child refuse food, they will understand if you bring your own food. Not everyone will be empathetic or accommodating but as long as you have informed them you have given them a chance to be understanding.
- Education – every party is a chance to educate people about allergies. Now we are not talking about a three hour lecture, but in simply informing them about allergies and allergy management you are building another person’s awareness and understanding.
How do you inform them?
Party hosts will often ask about allergies. Either way it is important to give the host a call and let them know who would like to attend the party and their allergies. Also inform them of the severity of the allergies and how you plan to manage them. For example if you prefer to bring a party lunch box for your child let them know that your child would love to come and celebrate but will be bringing their own food to be on the safe side. That way the party host is fully aware of how you plan to manage the party and what they need to cater.
Do you expect others’ to accommodate the allergies?
This is where things get a little more difficult. My personal opinion is that some accommodation is a reasonable request. This is an opportunity to stand up for your child and show them that they deserve respect, empathy, compassion and to be included, as all children/people deserve.
It is the level of accommodation that is up for debate. Allergen free environments are quite tough to manage and difficult to demand. It may not be possible for another parent to make this commitment and there may be other children with different allergies making it even more complex.
It is reasonable to request an allergy aware environment. Inform the host that your child has allergies, describe what this means, ask the parent whether food with allergens will be served. If so ask if it is possible that children can sit down to eat and wash their hands after they eat. It may be different to the way they normally run a party but really it is quite a simple request and it can keep an allergy child safe. Bring a pack of wipes with you, so you can help to give everyone’s hands a wipe after food.
Anaphylaxis & Allergy Australia has resources about being allergy aware, see the link below. One idea is to send this to the host to demonstrate what you mean by being allergy aware.
We attended a party the other week that had lots of allergens present. Our little man was fine, we took his own food, the kids had a great time but I didn’t ask everyone to wash up after food. We knew the hosts really well but not the other families and I forgot to ask beforehand. Regardless this it would have been a simple request and I know they would have obliged. We don’t always get it right but we learn each time!
How can you effectively communicate about allergies?
Clear, calm and positive communication is key. Discussing allergies can be emotional. You may have had past experiences of people being less than accommodating or feel unsure about putting your needs forward.
Keep your voice calm, use a low tone and talk slowly and clearly and you will have more of a chance of getting your point across effectively. Also try and keep it as positive as possible. Plenty of research shows that humans need lots of positive interactions and communication. You may have heard in a work context that people need four pieces of positive feedback before they will listen about the one piece of negative feedback regarding their performance. Well this goes in most situations. Keep it positive, say how excited your child is to come to the party and they are looking forward to it, yes they have allergies and this is how you will manage it and this is how they the host can help.
If you are unsure about communicating your needs, then practice. It may sound over the top but practicing can help you to deliver a clear message. Practice with your partner, practice with your friends.
What if the host offers to accommodate but you would prefer to bring your own food?
Again keep it positive “thank you for offering, you don’t know how much that means and if you can keep dairy to a minimum it will help to keep him/her safe. However, his/her allergies are quite severe and it is safest for me to bring a party lunch box for him/her.” This is also a good opportunity to talk about cross contamination – every interaction is a chance to education people about allergies.
So in summary say YES to parties as often as you can, being included is so important to children. It can be hard and the planning and communication required is more than most families have to deal with, but it is worth it. Especially if it means your child is able to attend a party with their friends and just be a kid.
- Keep it positive, assume other will be accommodating and understanding, this helps you stay positive,
- stand up for you and your child’s needs,
- ensure your requests are reasonable and achievable,
- communicate needs in a positive and respectful manner
- plan and prepare, and….
- Always have a pack of wipes on hand so if needs be you can wipe everyone’s hands after snack time 😉