A child’s first sleepover is a rite of passage that is enough to make any parent slightly anxious. Will they have a good night? Will they behave themselves? Will everything be okay? But if you’re the parent of a child with food allergies, that anxiety is taken to a whole new level when the time comes for someone else to tuck them in.
Just because your child has food allergies it doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the bonds and friendships that are forged during a sleepover. But there are some precautions you should take to make the event a stress-free success for everyone involved.
If your child has a moderate to severe allergy that can result in anaphylaxis, try to make their very first sleepover a small one, ideally with family who are already familiar with handling your child’s allergy. Not only will this reduce the chance of a reaction taking place but it will also be a lot less stressful for you (and the hosting family) if you have a few trial runs first.
Try to limit the number of children attending to one or two and make sure each child’s parents are aware of your child’s allergy so they can help educate their child on allergies and the importance of helping your child avoid certain foods or other allergens.
No matter who your child is staying with, when you send your child for a sleepover it is very important to take the time to explain to the hosting parent about the severity of your child’s allergies. “Try to do this in a gentle and caring way so as not to frighten your host,” suggests Stephanie Holdsworth, a registered nurse and mother to a four-year-old with severe allergies. “If it all seems too difficult for the hosting parent they may rescind their offer!”
Review your allergy action plan
Once you have created your allergy action plan don’t just stick it on the fridge and forget about it. By regularly reviewing your plan you can keep on top of early warning signs and modify it with your specialist if necessary.
If your child is attending a sleepover it is even more important to review your action plan with both your child and the hosting parent, says Stephanie. “Take your child’s allergy action plan with you and go through the steps with the hosting parent on the night of the sleepover,” Stephanie suggests.
Be open and honest with the hosting parents about your child’s allergy and any possible reactions without terrifying them. If your child’s allergy is life threatening then the host needs to know this and be comfortable in their ability to respond appropriately in case of an emergency. Providing them with a copy of your allergy action plan not only gives them the information they need to effectively manage an emergency, but it will also provide them with a list of allergens they can remove from their home, as well as early warning signs they can watch out for.
Talk about prevention
When hosting a sleepover for a child with allergies, prevention really is the key to a successful night.
“Make sure the host is aware that prevention is the main key to avoiding a reaction,” says Stephanie. “If possible, try to get the host and their guests to avoid consuming your child’s allergens for one night or, if your child has a food allergy, offer to send food that your child can eat to take a little bit of stress off the host,” she suggests.
If your child has environmental allergies, talk with your host about how to minimise these. Closing windows to prevent pollen and sending your child with their own pillow, blanket and sleeping bag will help prevent any reactions. For children with contact allergies to foods, make sure your host is aware that they can have a reaction without even ingesting the food to help them prepare their house and food areas in advance.
Run through an emergency scenario
The worst case scenario is that your child has a reaction while they’re on their sleepover. The host needs to be prepared to deal with this and must feel comfortable in calling you if they are unsure about anything, says Stephanie.
While your host may have your child’s allergy action plan, if they’re thrown into the middle of an emergency situation they may not remember to look at it. If your child has a life-threatening allergy, you can help your host parent out by running through a brief emergency scenario with them before the sleepover. This doesn’t have to be dramatic — simply point out any early warning signs they should be on the lookout for, show them how to use an adrenaline auto-injector if necessary and tell them that if they’re unsure about whether to use it to use it anyway.
It’s also a good idea to run through an emergency scenario with your child as well — have them tell you what they need to do if they start to feel funny and make sure they know where their action plan and medication is to be kept at all times.
Empower your child
Finally, empower your child and educate them on how to manage their allergy in a new situation.
“Make sure your child knows they can only eat food that you have sent with them, if that’s what you’ve decided is best, and make sure they know they cannot kiss other children that have been eating foods that contain their allergen,” says Stephanie.
It is also a good idea to make sure your child feels comfortable talking to their host about their allergy and won’t feel embarrassed if they start to feel unwell. Talk to your child about the importance of being able to ask questions of adults — not always an easy thing for a child to do — and to speak up if they need help.
Most importantly, if your child needs medication to manage their allergy make sure they have it with them or know where it is to be stored wherever they go. With the right preparation, sleepovers don’t have to be a no-go zone for your child with allergies. Enjoy this time-honoured tradition and celebrate yet another milestone for your little one.