After writing the last piece on avoiding cross contamination, I realized that we are not always with our children to look out for them and their allergies. From the time we diagnose their allergy to college, to probably always, we will worry about them and their allergies. If we teach them the skills early on (as in all aspects of life) we can feel more confident that they will make the right choices and stay safe when they are on their own.
We’ve discussed the importance of making sure your children are aware of their allergies, the symptoms, the importance of checking labels and asking adults when you are not around. However, there is another whole arsenal of tools they will need to prevent cross contamination. While they are younger, it may be easier as an adult will usually be around, even if it’s not you. As they reach their teen years, the risks get higher as teens indulge in riskier behavior.
Make sure you instill these habits in your children with allergies from the beginning to prevent dangerous cross contamination:
• Both children with allergies and those without need to consistently wash their hands. While you are teaching your child to do this, teach them to tell their friends to do the same (but not be bossy!). Teach them in language they’ll understand and can talk to their friends in, such as “we don’t want to share food germs” and “help keep me safe.”
• Teach them not to share their food or let others handle their food. If they need help opening an item, ask an adult for help.
• Keep hands to themselves while eating. If they consistently touch other people or other items on the table, chances are greater of cross contamination.
• Keep hands to themselves after eating. Small children are notorious for touching other kids and holding hands. They often touch others in the face which can hold lingering food oils and can then be transferred to themselves. Teach that this is not only dangerous for food allergies, but for colds, too, as well as being sort of bad manners. Holding hands is sweet and lots of children do it, but teach your child (again) to wash their hands and ask their friends to wash theirs.
• Often times children are pressured to hug or shake hands with an adult, even give an older relative a kiss on the cheek. Let your child know they do not have to do this, but still teach them polite manners. They can say, “I’m not allowed to shake hands but it was very nice to meet you” or something along that vein. Let your family friends and relatives know this is something you do for the safety of your child, not because you don’t like them!
• As children get older, holding hands and touching takes on a different role. By this time, they can understand the dangers of food allergies and the ways foods are transferred. Teach them without scaring them, but be forthright. Help them to be confident with their allergy and they can be confident in telling their friends (and boyfriend and girlfriends) to be careful, too.
I recently read of the fears parents have when their children with allergies go to college or move away. The best advice I took from that piece was teach them well while they are with you, and when they leave, try not to think about it all the time. Trust that they are making good decisions; chances are, they are!
– Heather Legg