Something I have noticed throughout my city travels, are the roasted nut carts that seem to pop up on so many street corners. Recently, I was in my home city walking down one of the main streets full of shops and people. There on the corner was a roasted nut cart. When I saw it, I crossed the street. I don’t like walking by them. The fumes are in the air, and it makes me uncomfortable. I have never had a reaction from air inhalation, but I don’t like to breath any of it in just in case. If I see it ahead of time, I avoid it. Sometimes they are there though and are almost impossible to avoid (especially when they are on both sides of the street). This is one reason why I think it is so important not to shelter your children. There is no way to prevent those carts from being on the street, or to stop people from eating foods with allergens. By constantly trying to put children in environments that are “allergen free,” they are being exposed to the idea that this is real life, and it’s not.
Educating your children about their allergies and how to take care of themselves is a fantastic solution instead of trying to make each environment free from allergens. More likely these “allergen free” environments are not truly allergen free. It gives children a false belief that the real world can be allergen free. Keeping this in mind is very important. There are certainly precautions to take, but only exposing children to environments that claim to be “allergen free,” is unrealistic. Teaching your child how to be responsible and take care of themselves starting from an early age is the best tool you can give them! That is how my parents raised me to be so responsible and to take care of myself. I feel incredibly lucky that they did such a fabulous job at a time when so few people even knew allergies existed! I definitely understand that at certain ages when children are very young, they are extremely reliant on adults to help them and to keep them safe, but it is also important that as an adult, you are teaching your child along the way. Children are not going to always have their parents by their side. When they are a little older and go off to school, or go play at a friend’s house, it is important they know what to do. This will only help you as a parent as well, because then you can have some confidence that both your child, and the adult supervising your child, know what to do to stay safe.
The whole concept of “peanut free” or “allergen free” is knew within the past five years or so. Not until then did this concept ever exist. Of course now there is more of a prevalence of children with food allergies, but I still think that this concept is being used blindly by people thinking it is helpful, when really it is giving the wrong message. Educating both teachers and children at school is definitely important, but singling kids out to sit at their own “nut free” or “allergen free” table is unrealistic and sends the wrong message. No matter where you go, there is no where else that will be allergen free. It is important to take some cautious steps, but to raise kids thinking they will have places where they don’t have to worry about allergens in a public setting seems contrary to what we should be educating them. The only time I can really understand taking more precautions is when children are at the preschool age. They are too young to truly understand, and it makes sense to take more precautions. Once children are at the elementary age, they understand better (even if teachers need to remind them sometimes) to wash their hands and to be respectful of other people’s space and food. The PAL program that FAAN has established, I think is a good step too. I was lucky to find friends who understood. PAL is good for having classmates learn and understand how to take care of their friends.
To read about this program go to: http://www.foodallergy.org/pal.html. I think by educating, and using programs like this, there will be a lot more success for this new generation of children learning to live with food allergies.