Why did you decide to write the book?
My daughter Mollie (who is now 7 years old) was diagnosed with life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies at around 18 months of age. As she grew older and became more involved in social activities like birthday parties and school events, we realized how much of an emotional toll food allergies can have, in addition to the physical ones.
With peanuts and tree nuts hidden in so many different foods, more times than not, she had to say “no thanks” to the special treats that were offered. Even though we would always provide a safe alternative, she still was left feeling excluded and different from the other kids. So I wanted to write the book as a way to help her cope with those feelings, and to remember that missing out on certain types of food doesn’t mean missing out on all the fun! We truly believe that optimism is one of the best forms of medicine, and we continue to use The BugaBees as a way to reinforce the message that all kids can be happy and healthy in spite of a food allergy diagnosis.
2) Why are food allergies so hard for kids to understand?
I’m an adult and I still find food allergies difficult to understand! For children, it’s very much the same, for many different reasons.
First, it just doesn’t seem logical that foods most people can eat could be fatal to others. We would never allow poison or weapons in schools which can cause serious harm to someone, yet we need to allow children to eat wheat, milk, peanuts, etc. which can also cause serious harm to someone with food allergies. I think that’s a hard concept for many people to resolve and even harder for kids to understand.
When food allergic children are very young, they also are confused as to why everyone else at the party/picnic/social function is allowed to enjoy certain foods and they are not. We all know that in our culture, food is more than just a method of sustaining our health and well-being. Food is used regularly to celebrate events, reward achievements, provide comfort, and even show our love. So, when some kids are excluded from having that special treat, or cookie, or piece of birthday cake, it can be very hard for them to understand that it’s for their own protection.
Finally, I think it’s really hard for kids to understand how so many foods you would never expect to be unsafe actually are because of hidden food allergens. My daughter has been taught to avoid all nuts, but has learned to also avoid certain types of pretzels, pancakes, french fries, pizza, candy, popcorn, cookies and more, not because they contain actual nuts, but because of the way they’ve been manufactured and/or prepared in restaurants. Cross-contamination is a hard concept to grasp for a lot of kids and adults alike.
What’s one thing you’d want parents of kids who DON’T have food allergies to understand?
That’s a hard one, because I’ve been personally surprised to find that while many parents are extremely thoughtful and supportive of kids with food allergies, many others quite frankly are not. I’ve met some parents who are very dismissive about that fact that food allergies can be fatal, or are defensive about their rights to eat or send to school whatever food they choose, regardless of how it affects others.
To those parents who do not live with food allergies, I guess the best overall advice I can give is to remember you’re dealing with innocent children – young souls who didn’t ask for this, but are trying their best to manage a potentially serious health issue at a very young age. As parents and caregivers, I really feel it’s our job to make all children feel safe and included, and with a little extra effort on our part, that’s a fairly easy thing to do.
To those parents who are willing to make the extra effort, reading ingredient labels, asking questions about how food is prepared and planning ahead are all great ways to accomplish this, not to mention, make a lifelong friend of someone with food allergies!