Last year, because of Covid, a lot of families laid low over Halloween. This year is likely to be quite different, with most families celebrating in a way that more closely resembles the trick-or-treating of years past. This is a fun but sometimes complicated holiday for many allergy families, so we’ve pulled together two of the best minds in allergy care and modern parenting to tackle some tricky Halloween questions.
At Backstop, we believe that supported parents make empowered kids. We’re a new virtual allergy care company that combines the expertise of medical doctors and mental health professionals with the power of technology, to deliver advice to your family when and where you need it.
Backstop brought together two members of our expert allergy care team, board-certified pediatrician Julie Sweeney, MD and licensed psychologist, Fawn McNeil Haber, PhD, to answer the most frequently asked questions about how to handle Halloween, with both physical and mental health in mind. Both are moms of kids with food allergies and have treated countless children with the condition throughout their careers.
Backstop: How can we keep kids with food allergies safe while they accept candy from neighbors, who may or may not know they are allergic?
Dr. Sweeney: First, kids with food allergies can and do have a blast on Halloween. It’s about balancing the fun, social aspect of the holiday with safety.
As parents, we need to read labels for every piece of candy. In my family, we find it’s helpful to have a rule that we don’t eat candy while trick-or-treating. When the kids get home, we look at the candy and separate out what’s safe and what’s not. Then comes what we call the “Switch Witch” who visits while the child is sleeping. She trades in an unsafe candy for a safer treat overnight. This may be a non-food item like an activity or a toy.
McNeil-Haber, PhD: Yes! These are great ideas. And you know, every child wants to feel a sense of excitement and a sense of belonging on Halloween. Every parent naturally wants their child to have a blast.
You can’t always influence how other families trick-or-treat. So if you feel like your child may feel left out if they’re not able to eat candy while walking the neighborhood, you can give them one or two pieces of safe sweets before they leave, so they don’t feel left out or deprived if other kids are eating candy.
If other kids are sneaking some treats on the sidewalk, it’s a good time to remind your child that different houses have different rules. Not just about food, but about lots of things, and that’s ok.
Backstop: How can we model good behavior for friends and neighbors, who we know take cues from us on how to be sensitive to the needs of kids with an allergy?
Dr. Sweeney: In our house, we do a few things to show neighbors how to have a safe, fun Halloween. First, we give out non-food treats. Kids don’t just love candy – they also love things like glow sticks. Wearable glow jewelry is also a huge hit, as are pencils, erasers, temporary tattoos, stickers, and pretty much anything with googly eyes.
We always have a teal pumpkin on our porch, which is a brilliant initiative created by a nonprofit called FARE to raise awareness about food allergies in communities at a time of year when many are “tuning in” to the issue for the first time. The teal pumpkin signals that your house has non-food treats for kids with food allergies.
My son Liam has already learned how to log on SnackSafely.com, to see which foods are safe for people with his allergies.
Backstop: What about ways we can teach our kids to self-advocate on Halloween?
McNeil-Haber, PhD: You can absolutely have your child speak for themselves if they can not accept a particular candy. You can also take the opportunity to bring siblings in on it. They’re part of your child’s support system too. If you’re trick-or-treating in a group, you can prep other parents about your child’s condition, and let them know what your family’s plans are to keep your child safe.
Halloween is on a weekend this year. If all of this sounds more stressful than playful, you can also just plan a trip away, where kids can dress up, celebrate, and unplug. You can make it special, in a way that’s not just around candy. We’ve done that with another family we know and trust, and my kids had a blast.
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