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Hosting the Safer Play Date: What Parents of Children With Food Allergies Want You To Know

As parents and guardians raising children with food allergies know so well, it takes a village. And what would we all do without the family and friends who truly ‘get’ it and do everything they can to support us and help keep our kids safer?

When it comes to hosting a play date, hosts almost always want to be helpful. But not everyone knows what to do to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction.

We reached out to two members of the Montreal Anaphylaxis Support Group for their descriptions of the safer, ‘dream play date’, and followed up with a few of our own. Feel free to share these with the play date hosts in your family’s life.

Donna L., shared a few ways she minimizes the risks:

  • Hosts will photograph food labels and send them to her before serving the food. Otherwise, the food isn’t served.
  • Hands are washed before and after eating.
  • The host must be open to reviewing epinephrine procedures prior to the play date.
  • The children play in areas known to be free of the allergen (e.g., avoiding the kitchen if they serve the allergen regularly).

Johanna M.S. offers the following tips:

  • If the host asks if her child has any allergies before the play date, this shows self-awareness and the willingness to compromise for her child’s safety, and this sets the tone that sets her mind more at ease.
  • She asks the hosts to serve fresh produce instead of processed snacks. Here, “everyone wins because it’s healthy and has only one ingredient!”

Great suggestions, all!

Here are a few more guidelines for hosts to keep in mind when preparing to host a child with food allergies:

Be curious. Given the statistics showing that about 300,000 Canadian children under 18 years have food allergies — it makes sense to ask whether a visiting child has any allergies (or, for that matter, other medical concerns). If so, it is important to find out all you need to know to help keep the child safe.

Ask for details. Once you learn of a child’s allergy or allergies, ask for the list of allergies in writing, as well as a list of specific products that are safe for the child to eat. The parent of a child with food allergies may ask questions about cross-contamination in the kitchen area. This is when an allergen (e.g., peanut butter) might be present on surfaces or utensils in the kitchen, and be transferred to the foods eaten by a person with a food allergy. These questions have nothing to do with how clean your kitchen is; a very small amount of the allergen can trigger a reaction.

Be patient and open. Parents of children with food allergies are at different stages of their journeys. Some are seasoned pros, who have managed food allergy for years. Others may be coping with a newer diagnosis, and hence, may be more fearful of letting their little ones play in a new environment. In each case, the path to success is paved with clear questions and solid back and forth communication and understanding.

Involve your child. If your child has a friend with food allergies, be sure that s/he is aware of the allergens, which should not be eaten or brought into the play area before or during the visit.

Be a partner in safety. Let the parents of visiting children with food allergies know that you understand and want to help as much as you can. Ask the visiting child’s parents to lead the way and tell you what their child needs.

Make a risk-reduction list. Just a few of the things parents may want to discuss with you before the play date include: What foods will be served, whether you or another informed adult will be supervising meal and snack times, or what allergens are present in your home (e.g., are there any open bowls of tree nuts or peanuts). Parents may opt to send a safe treat or meal along with their child. This isn’t an insult, but a safety measure.

Have a plan. The visiting child’s parents will likely raise this first. But if they don’t, be sure that you ask them to leave you with a valid (not expired) epinephrine autoinjector and a list of actions to take in case of emergency. They should tell you how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction in their child, and show you how to use the epinephrine autoinjector.

Be honest. If you’re uncomfortable being responsible for the safety of the visiting child, invite the parent/s to stay for the duration of the play date.

The great news is that it gets easier over time. And by taking steps to set up welcoming and fun play dates for all children, you’re also showing your own kids what empathy is all about.

For some additional information about food allergy in Canada, see our Fast Facts: Food Allergies in Canada information sheet.

Visit our page on food allergy safety in the home.