When C was diagnosed with a nut allergy, I cried for two days. I remember being particularly devastated that he would never have Reese’s peanut butter cups and that he’d probably never be able to go to Thailand (even though I haven’t even been myself).
One of the things that worried/saddened me the most was how we’d cope with birthday parties. Well, five years on we’ve attended loads of birthday parties, and we’ve just had our first couple of parties where I didn’t stay to help supervise.
For me, the key to success has been close cooperation and clear communication with host parents. That’s why I’ve put together this infographic below highlighting five questions you should ask a host parent when your allergic child is invited to a birthday party.
Where will the party be?
C has only ever had two reactions to nuts. The initial one, which saw us end up in a&e, and then one to peanut residue on the carpet at the local cricket club (he’d been crawling on it as part of a football activity). Up until the second reaction it hadn’t occurred to me that i need to think about floor surfaces as a risk to his allergy! Now I’m very aware of places like pubs (or cricket clubs or function rooms where people may serve or may have served peanuts).
It’s also important to think about whether the venue is easily accessible to emergency services and whether there’s phone reception to ring for help if necessary.
What will they eat?
The big one. When it comes to food I’m always happiest if the party is not at someone’s house. I’ve seen my fair share of kitchens at soft play centres and other party venues, reading ingredients on catering-sized bags of chips and bottles of oil! (It gets easier and you’ll get less awkward about doing this!)
It’s harder when it’s at someone’s house, but in my experience host parents are incredibly accommodating. I’ve had mum’s text me pictures of all packaging or inviting me round to their house beforehand to check everything is safe. I’ve had texts letting me know they found a bag of peanuts in the back of the kitchen cupboard and if that’s going to pose problems.
But I’ve also rocked up at a christening where there were bowls of peanuts out on tables – with lots of young kids walking around with plates of food a including a nuts – despite the hosts knowing about his allergy, and loving him.
So I guess the lesson here is that even when it feels awkward, you need to check and double check when it comes to food. At the end of the day, good intentions only won’t keep your child safe.
Find out about how kids will be kept busy. Are they doing arts and crafts or decorating cupcakes or making their own pizzas? Those activities come with obvious risks for the allergic child. But even something like pass the parcel could have risks (sweets in between layers) or prizes being given for other party games.
The order of activities is also important, so check about things like handwashing to avoid contact reactions.
Most shopbought cakes are a no-no for us, and unless I know the hosts well, I don’t trust homemade cakes either as there is such a big risk of cross contamination. Fortunately, C has always been happy with an alternative such as a Jaffa Cake bar, although recently I’ve been getting Genius chocolate cupcakes which are a lot more cakey.
There is no universally right answer to the question: How old should my child be before I leave them at a party on their own? In the case of an allergic child, most parents would think like 30…
Joking aside, C is now six and he’s been to two parties this year where I didn’t stick around. Before leaving him at the parties (which were both at people’s homes), I went through food choices, packaging and sweets for party games with the host parents. I discussed possible symptoms and explained what medication was needed. I made sure they had my phone number and I reminded C several times to double check with his friend’s parents before eating anything.
Then I went home and instead of spending a couple of hours relaxing, I kept checking my phone.
The thing is, as scary as birthday parties can be, we can’t wrap our allergic children up in cotton wool forever. The best we can do is raise sensible, aware young people, educate those around us (and around them), and minimise risk through preparing as much as possible.
Here’s a checklist to remind you of questions to ask the host parents when your allergic child gets invited to a birthday party.
(You’re welcome to use this infographic on your blog, but please link back to this page.)