My son has a long list of life-threatening food allergies—all of the big ones and more—and literally can't eat any candy. At all. And he's not alone. One in thirteen kids has an anaphylactic food allergy these days, and these kiddos increasingly have multiple allergies, at that.
He's six now and we're pretty much pros at keeping life grand while keeping him safe too, but the holiday season—beginning with Halloween—is by far our most challenging time of the year. And since Halloween is my kiddo's favorite holiday (because of course it is) so the pressure's really on. I can't easily downplay this one, but a traditional approach to trick-or-treating and parties just can't work for us, so I've had to get creative.
Luckily, I've developed some tricks for keeping the fun factor high and the disappointment and danger factors as close to zero as they can be for families like ours. Read on for what I do —and what you can, too—to rock Halloween for all the kids who can't eat the sweets.
1. I pre-distribute non-food treats for my son among our neighbors.
A few days before Halloween, I walk around our neighborhood ringing doorbells and handing out Hot Wheels, stickers and other small non-food treats for our neighbors to hand back to my kid when he comes trick-or-treating. I tip the neighbors off as to what we'll all be wearing, so they're usually ready for us when we get to the door. This way, my allergy kid doesn't have to either explain that the stuff people try to hand him all night could actually kill him and decline it or, alternately, accept that food and trade it later for a toy at home.
Letting our neighbors in on our solution has been a great way to not only meet everyone but also to educate them about food allergies, which are rampant now but were mostly non-existent back when we were kids. Most people simply aren't aware. Some neighbors have felt so moved by my son's situation that they've even thrown in extra toys and such when we've come around on Halloween night. He gets a lot of love and high-fives. I always end up deeply touched, and my kiddo ends up genuinely happy.
2. We paint teal pumpkins together: The Teal Pumpkin Project was started a few years ago to tip allergy kids off as to which houses were safe for trick-or-treating. I love this, not only because it's spread awareness but also because it helps kids realize they're not alone. We make a big deal of going to the pumpkin patch and then painting our big pumpkins teal, and we choose treats together for ALL of the trick-or-treaters who'll come to our door. This helps my kid feel like a part of something larger and like he's actively including everyone.
Tips on this: please don't be duped into buying candy that's marked as "Teal Pumpkin-friendly." It's a marketing ploy, and a bad one. Just because a candy doesn't contain peanuts doesn't mean it's safe for all allergy kids. Imagine seeing a teal pumpkin and then realizing you still can't have the goods? Not fun.
3. We party with our local allergy community.
A local organization supporting families dealing with food allergies throws an annual food-free Halloween party and we try to go every year. Last year, the kids enjoyed a puppet show and games with non-food prizes. My son didn't even know it was an "allergy thing." Many communities host events like this. If your kids don't have food allergies but some of their friends do, why not ask their parents what they do to celebrate and if they'd like some company? These events are open to the public as long as everyone's willing to wipe their hands.
4. We party with our non-allergic friends, too.
We're lucky to have a close-knit social circle that's fully aware of my son's allergies and really cares about making activities safe for him. For Halloween, we're going to another friend's house for a party, and I've simply worked out with her mom what will help make it doable and fun for my son. They won't be serving anything that could really harm him, the kids will all wash their hands before jumping into games together, and my son will bring his own snacks.
Communicating in advance with the other parents helps me feel relaxed—instead of terrified—during the party itself. People want to help. If you're an allergy mom, reach out, and don't be afraid ask for what you need. If you're not an allergy mom, reach out and see what you can do to keep the scene safe so everyone can participate. Parents of allergy kids will be able to provide really specific guidance on that and will usually go above and beyond to help make it easy for you (bringing food, baking cupcakes, etc). We're all in this together, right?
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5. We celebrate in all the ways.
Trick-or-treating isn't the only thing that's cool about Halloween. From taking a family day-trip to the pumpkin patch to hanging a skeleton on our front door, there are many other exciting elements to the season that kids can get really into. We stock our family's library book basket full of spooky, seasonal titles, take walks around the neighborhood and admire other people's decorations and spend a lot of time planning and putting together costume. By the time Halloween night rolls around, my goal is for my allergy kid to have already gotten his Halloween fix. The rest is proverbial gluten-free gravy.