"No, thanks. I'm allergic," may be heard at more egg hunts this Sunday than you think. The good news is that adults can play an important role in mitigating the social challenges children feel around food allergies if they respond to food-allergic children with confidence and kid-friendly terms.
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), one in every 13 children under the age of 18 in the United States has life-threatening food allergies. This means thousands of parents, siblings, friends and loved ones will need to be careful and compassionate where food is involved this Easter. This will be challenging for kids and caregivers alike -- how can anyone avoid food on a holiday whose celebrations revolve around eggs, chocolate bunnies and jelly beans?
While the physical ramifications of allergen ingestion rate are high on many affected children's fear scales, the social challenges of food allergies can be even more daunting. Children with food allergies often experience social exclusion or bullying, not to mention the emotional pain of feeling different from kids in their classes, teams and activity groups. Most non-allergic children and adults do not mistreat children with food allergies out of malice -- their challenge is lack of understanding on the topic.
Enter: Davis, Elliot, Greta, Scotty, Paige and Natalie. These names do not represent actual children (though they could); these ultra-confident, ever-prepared characters are the founding members of the No Biggie Bunch. The No Biggie Bunch is a series of children's books I co-authored with Heather Mehra after spending time while earning my Master's Degree in Writing and Publishing as a nanny for her three children -- all of whom had life-threatening food allergies.
Heather and I found when we and their teachers, coaches and friends' parents were "cool" about reading food labels, testing emergency medication and calling ahead to ask about food at school or social functions, so were the kids. We noticed when we put some of the scary, obtuse food allergy concepts in kid-friendly language, practiced "What If..." scenarios and gave them the words to use when one arose, the kids' attitudes were less "Oh No!" and more "No Biggie!" The children felt so empowered by their ability to care for themselves that they could educate other kids and caregivers to mirror their smart preparation and self-assured attitude.
Heather and I also found while there were many medical resources for food-allergy families, there were no tools available to address the social challenges they encounter. Since necessity is the mother (or "nanny") of invention, we embarked on a journey to write and self-publish four No Biggie Bunch stories, which we call adventures, and partnered with Dr. Michael Pistiner, a food allergy specialist in Boston, to create a fifth book -- Everyday Cool with Food Allergies.
The adventure books show the characters creatively coping with situations including birthday parties, playdates and holidays. Everyday Cool with Food Allergies illustrates how kids and caregivers can identify signs of a reaction, make a game of reading food labels and say "No thanks. I'm allergic," in creative ways -- a skill many children may need to apply this Sunday.
This weekend, when you hear a child at an Easter egg hunt (or any social gathering) say, "No thanks. I'm allergic," please listen, provide help if needed and give him or her a high five (after washing your hands to prevent cross-contact). After all, food allergies are a big deal, but if you converse in kid-friendly terms, living with them can be, "No Biggie!" -- on holidays and every day.
To learn more about the No Biggie Bunch, visit the website.
To get more food allergy information in the hands that need it most, support our goal to get No Biggie Bunch books in 50 States and 500 Libraries.
Follow Kerry H. McManama on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KMcWriter