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4 Things Food Allergy Moms Want You to Know

It takes a village to protect children with food allergies—a big, empathic and attentive village. The kind of village that puts kids before technology (as in, they watch carefully when food allergy kids are around instead of staring at a phone screen). The kind of village that asks questions to get information, not to judge.

The problem, of course, is that not everyone wants to live in such a village and not everyone understands the need for vigilance when it comes to food allergies.

I am a mother of two children with food allergies. Some of those allergies cause hives, upset stomach and itchy skin. Some of them are potentially fatal. All of them have the potential to either improve or worsen over time, and the only way to know where we stand is to see the allergist for more testing (with needles and others things that kids don't enjoy.)

RELATED: Food Allergies Moms vs. From Scratch Moms

Before you launch into a comment about the latest and greatest "research" (make that very small study) stating that exposing infants to peanuts will help reduce allergies, know this: Some of us already tried that.

My kids are not allergic to peanuts, but they are highly allergic to all tree nuts. I ate tree nuts throughout my pregnancy. I ate tree nuts while I nursed my babies. And the minute they had enough teeth to chew? They were given tree nuts. They were also given things like rice (both allergic), blueberries and bananas (both allergic), and soy (one highly allergic).

That's only a partial list.

While I am a big fan of ongoing research to help prevent and treat food allergies, not every study applies to every family. And food allergies are very scary. While I would never demand a tree-nut-free campus (although I came really close after my daughter went to the nurse three times in one week due to wheezing triggered by a classmate's lunch), I do expect the village to pitch in and help look out for my kids. Every single day of our lives is a leap of faith.

Every. Single. Day.

How can you support a mom friend who has kids with food allergies? Start here:

1. Ask for details

Very few people ask me about safe vs. unsafe foods when my kids attend a birthday party. This, for the record, is why we don't do drop-offs. You can call me a helicopter, I can take it, but that's not the issue. A 6-year-old, even one who reads on a first-grade level, can't make sense of food labels. So few people ask, in fact, that I almost cried when the mom of my daughter's best friend texted me early in their friendship to get a list to post on her fridge. We didn't know each other well at all, but she wanted a detailed list just to be safe.

Ask for your friend for information. Ask how to read labels to ensure that cross-allergens are not a problem. If you don't understand the seemingly endless list of soy ingredients that pop up in processed food, ask about them. Ask your friend what signs and symptoms to look for. My son's lips will swell if he eats something he shouldn't, but my daughter usually wheezes first. No two reactions are exactly the same. Information helps.

2. Don't judge

If it seems like food allergy moms plan their lives around food, it's because, to some extent, they have to. Do we go above and beyond sometimes? Probably. Do we ask endless questions and pack safe snacks when we do agree to drop-off parties? Yes. This is what we have to do to protect our kids. The one time I forgot to have the "please don't feed my kid" chat, she was given a bowl of Pirate's Booty (rice, therefore, hives everywhere). My bad.

My kids are really good about saying no to unfamiliar to food, but they do trust close friends, teachers and relatives. Mistakes happen. If hovering just a little bit reduces food allergy mistakes, then I'm willing to hover. Please don't judge me.

3. Let us leave early (or arrive late)

I know how much work planning a party entails, and I totally appreciate all of it. My kids love birthday parties, and they always appreciate being included. Although I am always 100 percent honest about how I handle allergies and parties, I know that some people don't understand: If the party involves a meal, we will either arrive late, because we ate first, or leave early if my child is hungry. I've tried dropping off special foods and homemade cupcakes for the cake portion of the party. I'm willing to do the work. But my kids? They confided in me that the meals and cakes are the hardest part for them, and I have to respect their feelings in all of this.

Being late isn't always a sign of rudeness. Leaving early doesn't always mean someone doesn't appreciate the party. Sometimes protective factors are necessary. Understanding that means the world to us food allergy moms.

4. Be gentle with the kids

As much as I tell my kids that different is good, it can be really hard to feel different. It's hard to explain food allergies over and over again. It's hard to be the one kid at the school party who can't eat the chocolate.

Be kind with your words. Try not to make food jokes to lighten the mood—food-allergy kids tend to take those personally. Avoid questioning them about their eating habits. They've learned to eat what they know is safe (and, yes, sometimes that means sticking to a few safe foods). Food-allergy kids are just that: kids. They like to run, play, jump from high places and be silly, just like every other kid. They just need a little extra help when it comes to eating safe and healthy foods.

RELATED: 10 Things Not to Say to an Allergy Mom

It takes a village to protect a child with food allergies. Food allergy kids don't need protection every minute of every day, but a little empathy and understanding, and a watchful eye at the table, goes a long way toward helping that child feel safe.

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Image via Twenty20/VincentLaFlame

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