While checking my Facebook page recently, the following question was posed by a fellow parent-in-the-trenches in the food allergen community: “Should children with life threatening food allergies be placed into one classroom within a school – separate from other classmates?”

I admit it – my reaction was as swift and fierce as a tsunami. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “STOP THE PRESSES! Are we going to separate all children according to their disabilities – Autism, diabetes, food allergies, etc.?

OK, deep breaths. While my reaction was born of my own perspective, believe me - I get it. I understand the fear of raising a child with a severe disability (in our case life-threatening food allergies). I know the agony of being scared to death to allow my beautiful angels to step outside the safety of my arms, into the big bad world full of so many pernicious foods that could, quite literally, kill them.

I get it.

Still, the reality is this – unless I want my children to live in a bubble, it is my responsibility as a parent to teach them self-reliance. I want my children to experience life – go to school, make friends, travel, get married. Letting go is something I believe we must do for all children, and especially those who will have to serve as their own advocates. Because, like all kids, at some point, they’re going to insist on asking a server at a restaurant about any possibility of an allergic contaminant – by themselves.

So how do we encourage our children to take responsibility, yet still keep them safe? It’s not easy, of course. But check out just a few suggestions from a seasoned mom of kids with severe food allergies:

  1. Take one step at a time. At each stage of a child’s development will come different challenges, so take each one slowly. You can’t run before you walk. Looking into the future will only cause stress and anxiety.
  2. Make a plan. With each and every event (traveling, first day of school, eating at a friend’s home) devise a plan of action that is understood by all.
  3. Enlist others. Learn to trust – it’s hard, I know! Not only is this imperative for your well-being but it is also extremely healthy for your child.
  4. Empower your child. This will be much easier as they get older. Teach your child to identify their situation and know how to handle it. Make sure they have their medication on hand at all times, and know how to administer it on their own, or, with the help of another adult.
  5. Do not “go there!” Never allow yourself to go the dark place of “what if.” It’s just not healthy, so stay positive.

So - back to that original question.

As a society, the more we learn to respect and appreciate the differences between us, the better off we are. Separating children with allergies – segregating them – will only cause division and misunderstanding. Instead, when it’s appropriate, let’s teach our kids to talk to teachers and other students about their allergies. You’d be very surprised how many of them will go home and ask their parents to refrain from packing peanut butter and ask for “Sunbutter” instead!

Lesson in empathy: check.

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Published in Parents Blog