I love Fall…the vibrant reds, yellows, browns and oranges. The light nip in the air, brilliant orange pumpkins, ghouls, witches, skeletons, smoking skulls, bloodied hands, vampires, shreiks and more in all its glory. Most of all – I love the one day of the year when kids throng the streets of every neighborhood. The world comes alive amidst the joyful screams and chattering of children.
However, Halloween trick-or-treating is also one of the most stressful times for the caregiver of a food allergic child and and it is also emotionally traumatic for the child. The worry is three-fold:
- Amidst the zillion Almond Joys, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers – we as caregivers are mortally afraid for the safety of our child.
- It is heart-wrenching to see the look of utter disappointment on our children’s faces when they can’t eat the candy.
- The emotional trauma the child suffers when he sees every child around him gobbling tons of chocolates but he cannot even touch it. That calls for maturity far beyond a young child’s age 😦
2011 will mark the sixth year as a trick-or-treater for my little one and I follow a few simple rules to make it as easy as possible. Sharing the same with all of you and a few more tips to allow for happy, safe and emotionally fulfilling trick-or-treating.
- Keep Benadryl and EpiPen handy: Most of us go trick-or-treating in our neighborhood but it is still a good idea to have the medicines at hand.
- Accompany your child when he/ she goes trick-or-treating and keep a watchful eye at all times. If your child is older, ensure that he/she goes out with friends who are aware of your child’s allergies.
- Have a one-to-one with your little one the day before the big day. Ensure that they have your undivied attention and give them just one simple rule – ‘Do not eat the candy until an adult or specifically the caregiver has checked the label.’
- Treats can be non-food too: Halloween stickers or small toys to trick-or-treaters can be given to promote food allergy awareness. Encourage your neighbors to do this as well.
- Make your trick-or-treater eat prior to the big evening: This ensures that the kids are not famished and hence tempted to eat the candy without supervision.
- Always read the label: Even if it is a product your child had consumed before safely. Manufacturers are constantly changing product composition in their attempt to improve taste, shelf life and more.
- When in doubt, go without!: I cannot emphasize this enough – if the product is not labeled, it is not worth letting your child have a bite of that candy and ending up in the hospital. Often, Halloween candy is not individually labeled because they come out of enormous value packs.
- Wheat-free does not imply gluten-free: So, if the child is allergic to gluten – ensure that the candy does not contain ingredients like barley or oats either.
- Beware of generic terms: General terms like ‘spices’ or ‘protein’ does not give an indication of what spices or what the source of protein is. Avoid it if unsure!
- Call and verify – Most companies are very helpful if you call and ask them about ingredient listings. Give them the product name, lot number and ingredients. Ask them specific questions patiently and thoroughly.
- Read the long list of ingredients even if it is fine print: Invest in a magnifying glass because it will keep your kid safe. Most candy today have a zillion ingredients in them. Add fine print to it and it is no fun reading throught the list. However, your child’s life is too precious to be careless on a day they are going to get sackfuls of candy. Also, if we are observant – our children can enjoy the few candies that is allergy-friendly!
- Beware of ‘been there, done that’ syndrome: As a parent who has been managing her child’s allergies for 6 years, I will say this – there are moments one gets careless. We start getting into a comfort zone and feel that we know what is safe. I made just that kind of mistake one Halloween when I offered twizzlers to my little one. Ensconed in the long list of ingredients was wheat – an ingredient that he was allergic to at that time. Luckily, the quantity that he consumed was so little that he suffered no adverse reactions. He was not so lucky another time when I gave him icing assuming that it just had sugar and colors. Unfortunately, it had egg whites and within minutes his face broke into hives 😦
- Have a trade-in ready: Have somethig that your child wants so he/she can trade in the candy once they are back home.
- Join FAAN’s trick or treat for Food Allergy: This lets kids join in the Halloween fun while raising awareness and funds for food allergy. ‘Instead of trick-or-treating for candy kids raise funds to support FAAN’s mission to raise public awareness, to provide advocacy and education, and to advance research on behalf of all those affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis.’. Go to ‘How to participate’ on the FAAN website to learn more. As an added incentive, kids can earn a grand prize of an iPod Shuffle if they are the highest fundraiser – yayy!
- Be mentally alert: Despite all these measures mistakes happen and that’s why it is good to be mentally prepared. I remember seeing on a TV show about self-defense that under moments of extreme stress people react at the lowest level of their training. So the more prepared we are, the more likely that we are to take quick and correct action.
Can you think of some other things that we can do to keep our adorable trick-or-treaters safe? Would love to hear from you. Every bit helps in keeping our kids safe!