When it comes to making friends when our kids are very young, moms often arrange playdates or get-togethers based on the other moms that they want to hang out with. But when our kids get older and enter a school setting, it’s time to give them the freedom to choose their own friends.
It’s understandable that a parent would want to ensure the safety of their child and help them make good choices in who to spend time with. But I feel like sometimes parents want to avoid their child having friendships where there is an unknown or a special need, for instance a child with severe food allergies.
I don’t believe it’s malicious intent, I think some parents just don’t know what special circumstances the friendship might entail, so they may try to avoid the situation altogether.
I regretfully admit that I used to be one of those parents. I love children with all of my heart and don’t want anyone to feel left out; I’m just not always confident in handling the care of a child with different needs, especially if they are potentially life-threatening.
My 8-year-old son made fast friends with two boys from church, ages 9 and 11. They all love to play with toy dragons, train sets, and, of course, video games. They love to run around outside and dig in dirt. They’ve even gone camping together.
These new friends have severe food allergies, so we have gladly learned a lot about helping keep them safe. The brothers only have a handful of allergy-friendly foods they each can have, so the first time we invited them over to our house with their mom, it must have looked like a total minefield to them.
I have a very standard food-germ house when it comes to kids. It is not at all uncommon to find crackers in the toy box, ketchup smeared somewhere, or spilled drops of milk on the floor from a sippy cup. I have a messy toddler in the mix too, so I was very nervous that my home would be unsafe for my son’s friends when they came to visit.
But we love having them over, and we’ve learned to prepare the safest environment we can. They are well-versed in how to keep themselves safe in a world that is heavily food-based, but I really wanted to do my part to help them feel welcome and safe too.
Their mom has spent years spotting potential dangers and advocating for her sons, so she is spectacular with preparations. The boys are even great about helping me remember the correct procedures to prevent passing allergens.
The boys are well-prepared, but I also prep my house the following ways to ensure the most allergy-free environment possible:
- Keep wet wipes on the counter or kitchen table for easy access to wash little hands.
- Wipe down counters, sinks, and the kitchen table with antibacterial soap.
- Wipe down favorite toys that will be played with, also video game controllers, tablets, and TV remotes with separate wipes.
- Make sure everyone washes his hands before and after snacks and meals.
- Food is allowed at the kitchen table only, and I change my toddler’s clothes if he gets food on them.
Their mom is also fantastic about making sure I am aware of their meds and nutritional drinks. She showed me how to use an epinephrine auto-injector and had me try it out with a test unit.
I am comfortable caring for them if she steps out for a few hours, or if they want to have a sleepover. Their mom is very clear with their needs and always available for any questions I might have.
We have apples as a snack because it is a safe food all the kids can enjoy, and we are careful that our other foods don’t come into contact with another’s during mealtimes.
As for birthday parties, I work with their mom to provide allergy-friendly foods and buy extra so others can enjoy the same kind of treat. I often text her pictures of what I’m getting at the store to make sure it’s the right product, and if I ever have a problem finding what I need, she’s happy to bring an alternative.
I admit, I used to roll my eyes about all of the nut-free and store-bought-only food rules in schools, but I don’t feel that way anymore since getting to know their family.
I’m saddened to think that I could be missing out on watching their beautiful friendships blossom if I had avoided educating myself about severe food allergies. I can’t imagine not having our friends in our lives. And I believe that learning all there is to know about helping keep them safe is just a given. It’s protecting a child. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?