Battle to keep kids with food allergies safe away from home
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Does an allergy rule your life?
When your child has food allergies or intolerances it's scary. While they're at home you can generally ensure they're safe. But what about when they're away from home - at school, at a friend's house or staying with family?
Children are not adults, they do not have the same ability to advocate for their health and may not always make the best food decisions - especially if something yummy is offered to them.
Many young allergy-affected children would find it difficult to easily turn down a piece of chocolate cake if it was offered by an adult and there were no allergy-free options available. Especially if they were in a room full of their cake-eating friends.
As a parent, you've got to be able to trust that the people who are looking after your child are following the dietary instructions you've provided. However, all too often I've heard of cases where people have either deliberately or accidentally ignored parental advice.
Recently I received an email from a concerned mum. Her children are gluten and dairy intolerant and, despite informing the school repeatedly of their dietary needs, this week they were given Anzac biscuits by their teacher.
No prior notice was given, so the parents couldn't provide an alternative option, nor did the school make any effort to safeguard the child in question. I have no idea whether this was a deliberate case of willful ignorance on the part of the school, or a genuine mistake, but it's not good enough.
Children should be safe at school, and that means ensuring they aren't exposed to hazardous substances - and for allergy-affected children, food can be a hazardous substance.
I've also heard of many cases of grandparents or other well-meaning family members giving children with food allergies unsafe foods because they felt the child was "missing out on treats".
As a child, my parents were very clear about their desire for me not to have much sugar in my diet. And it was for good reason - when I had sugar I was miserable for at least a week and had awful stomachaches (and damn it, this is still the case as an adult).
My nana, who was the kindest, most lovely grandmother you could hope for, was constantly giving me sugary treats. Chocolate, lollies and all kinds of yums. It used to drive my parents crazy because after staying with my grandparents I was sick as a dog for weeks afterwards.
So why do people insist on ignoring the dietary guidelines set by parents? I can only think of two reasons:
1. They think they know better what your child should be eating.
2. They don't want the child to miss out on treats
Let's be clear, neither of these reasons are acceptable for ignoring the dietary guidelines provided by the child's parent. Parents have to deal with the fall-out when their advice is not adhered to, and this could be anything from mild to sever, from behavioural issues to physical illness.
Just because a child doesn't go into immediate anaphylaxis does not mean that they do not have a food allergy or intolerance.
Whatever the side-effects of dietary slip-ups, it is not for other people to judge whether they are serious enough to follow a specific diet.
Let me say it once very clearly: if you've been advised by a parent not to feed their child a certain food, DO NOT feed that food to the child. It's not difficult.
Respect parents' rights to care for their child.