Why Empathy Is Essential
For parents whose kids do not have a life-threatening allergy, it can be hard to grasp what all the fuss is about. The blogosphere is filled with gripes from those who feel parents' fears are overblown and resent being told what their own child can and can't bring for lunch or snack.
"Many schools now have effective policies in place," says Dr. Wood, who's in favor of a commonsense approach. "Nut-free schools or milk-free tables are important for preschoolers, who don't keep their hands to themselves. But by the time kids are in elementary school, they need to know how to fend for themselves in the real world." Still, only a handful of states have passed even basic guidelines for school personnel to help them recognize and treat food allergies. If your school hasn't done that yet, direct the staff to a free, interactive online course recently produced by FAAN and several other food-allergy groups at allergyready.com.
Meanwhile, parents must think of everything: What are kindergartners feeding the hamsters? Have those old peanut-butter jars been sanitized before markers are stored in them? Does the science project involve food?
Living with an ever-present fear of dying is not something most of us think about, let alone want our children to. But experts insist that those kids who are taught in an age-appropriate way how to stay safe, who have their medications with them, and who trust that the people around them know what to do, will be fine. In fact, many kids with severe allergies have a gaggle of peers who look after them. "At parties, Reagan's friends watch out for her," says Lissa Roberts. "They see what's being served and then run up and say, 'Be careful. Reagan can't have that!' Of course, she doesn't always like it when they do that -- but I sure do."