I recently gave a presentation on this topic for North Merrick School District’s SEPTA Meeting. At the request of members in the Friends Helping Friends Food Allergy Support Group on Facebook, here is my recap.
My daughter with food allergies had her very first reaction at 14 months old, after eating a bite of her sister’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had to rush her to the emergency room. This happened 11 years ago, right before Halloween.
I remember feeling paralyzed. My carefree memories of Halloween, including stocking up on favorite candies like Snickers & M&M’s, ended. Everything changed that October afternoon.
Suddenly, Halloween was filled with real fear.
How was I going to let her enjoy this food allergy “land mind” of a holiday?
I’m not going to lie. It was a challenge. But we figured it out. We adjusted our game plan with these 3 steps:
- Bring 2 epinephrine auto injectors, your child’s Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan, wear medical ID jewelry, bring hand wipes, have a stash of “safe candy”, charge cell phones, and manage fear and expectations.
- Remember, this can be really hard on little kids. They may not fully understand why they cannot eat all of the treats like their friends. They may feel sad or angry. Their siblings may be upset and concerned, if this is new to them too! Support your kids. Acknowledge their feelings. Then, help them remember all of the foods they *can* enjoy. Help them change their story from negative to positive.
- Think about the costume your child will be wearing. Maybe keep little ones in their strollers or wagons, giving you more control of what is put directly in their hands. If your child is feeling anxious, maybe a costume with gloves as an accessory would help him feel safe?
- How you will handle all of the candy that’s collected at the end of the night? Will you donate it or use the Switch Witch to replace the unsafe candy with a small toy or game? Will you trade unsafe candy with friends or siblings? Will you allow non allergic siblings to keep their candy? If so, how will you make sure everyone stays safe? These questions should be addressed ahead of time. As we know, food allergies impact the entire family unit.
- When you know you are going to be out of your “normal routine” it’s a good time to review the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to use your epinephrine auto injector. This is all part of being prepared. The more we review and practice, the more confident we will be in the event of an unexpected allergic reaction or emergency situation.
- If your child is older and going to be out with another family or with friends, now is the time to teach them! Train these families and/ or friends on how to recognize an allergic reaction, the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to use your child’s epinephrine auto injector and call 911.
If anaphylaxis strikes, it’s “Give & Go!” meaning give the epinephrine and call 911 to goto the hospital!
- Review how to read a label for food allergens. Candy labels at Halloween are tricky! Snack sized versions of the same full sized brands can include allergens and allergen warning statements. Be vigilant!
- Talk with your neighbors. Let them know about your child’s allergies. We were truly amazed at the kindness our neighbors showed our children over the years. They really cared about them, especially at Halloween!
- Who will be the adult in charge of watching your little one like a hawk? Who will be your older child’s buddy? Communicate and plan this out ahead of time.
- Teach your children how to stay safe while also being gracious. This can be difficult, either having to say “no thank you” or to accept unsafe candies, knowing they can’t be eaten, but still understanding maintaining good manners is always important.
- Participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project and tell your community about this awareness and inclusion initiative, by placing a teal pumpkin on your porch and having non food items available, like glow sticks, bouncy balls, rubber ducks, bubbles, etc. It’s fun for everyone and no one is left out!
Finally, if this is too overwhelming or you’re not a fan of Halloween to begin with, start your own traditions! Have a Halloween Party in your home where you plan the menu, enjoy the experience of handing out candy and Teal Pumpkin items instead of Trick or Treating, have a family game night or movie night, book a mini vacation and head to a hotel with an indoor pool, or find a “food allergy friendly” event, like The Love for Giovanni Foundation’s Food Free, Worry Free Trunk or Treat! The possibilities are endless. There’s no one way to celebrate!
With a plan in place, our kids can do just about anything!
Happy & Safe Halloween Friends!