When you’re the babysitter or teacher with food allergies, juggling kids and snack time just got a whole lot more complicated.
I’m one of several volunteer teachers on our church’s Sunday school team, but to my knowledge, I’m the only one with a severe food allergy. Being a teenager and trying to communicate a biblical message to a room full of five-year-olds is hard enough . . . but then there’s snack time. I can’t be the only one with this problem. (The idea that you could be is the first step you’ll take towards allergy-related anxiety and depression.) So I decided to come up with a process that keeps me relatively safe.
The kids in my class eat pretzels for their snack. Instant wheat alert. But by allowing them to get the snack for themselves, I create a partial barrier between myself and the allergen. They have no problem with this, so I simply supervise.
The allergen-containing food is only the first problem. After snack time, the kids have it on their hands, clothes, probably the table as well. This is always a huge source of contamination. In my case, our class is virtually over by the time this risk exists, but I can tell you my anxiety level goes through the roof. Why? Because the kids won’t understand my allergy, and the risk for contamination has shot up.
I encountered this same problem as an after-school babysitter a couple years ago. The young girl always had a snack after school, and only half the time was there gluten-free popcorn available in place of wheat crackers. So we had to develop a routine. She had to remain sitting at the table – no exceptions – during snack time. Then she had to take care of anything left over, then wash her hands.
For a hyperactive six-year-old, that was no small feat, but we managed to avoid contamination.
Avoidance is key to managing a severe allergy, but avoidance doesn’t make it easy to thrive with a severe allergy. So if you’re in a situation with kids and snack time, consider using it as an opportunity to introduce them to the reality of food allergies. It may not sink in, but you’re not the last person with food allergies they’re going to encounter, so it may still be worth your time.
Give kids a routine and responsibility. If they can eat the snack around you, they have to clean up afterwards. Think of ways you can make it fun. A reward? A game? Also examine the situation to see if there’s a way for you to substitute a dangerous snack for a safe one.
On the subject of substituting the snack, you’ll likely have to explain this to a parent or instructor to work it out. Explain the danger it represents to you. Too many people believe that avoiding an allergen is a choice. Don’t let that misunderstanding endanger you.
Talk to me, people! What has been your experience in this area?