When you’re in pre-school, classroom birthday celebrations are everything! However, when you’re a preschooler with food allergies, classroom birthday celebrations are…different. Whether you’re the parent of the child with allergies, the parent providing the birthday treats, or the teacher, you can expect to experience these three types of celebrations: the included, the excluded, and the compromise.
These are, naturally, best-case scenarios! These celebrations typically happen when you have a personal relationship with the family of the birthday boy or girl. These people have seen your struggles and genuinely love your child. It means more to them (and their kids) that everyone is able to participate than it does for their kid to have the exact dessert that they want. Plus, at this age, not many kids complain when given one form of sugar over another. The joy and excitement of seeing everyone enjoying the festivities is something to be truly giddy about!
In this scenario, a classmate brings his birthday treat and it is not allergy-friendly. In my personal opinion, this is completely acceptable. The parents are not intentionally trying to exclude your child, they’re simply trying to make the day extra special for their own. I mean, after all, if it’s your birthday, you should be able to eat what you want, right? Sadly, this does mean that your child will be excluded from the festivities.
In our third type of celebration, the birthday treat is, once again, not allergy-friendly. Most of the students will enjoy the birthday dessert, while your child will enjoy a special treat of his own that you’ve provided specifically for this purpose.
HOW TO PREPARE IF YOU'RE AN ALLERGY PARENT
In order for “The Compromise” scenario to play out, allergy parents must be on top of their game, which should come as no surprise considering that’s our every-day lives. I suggest one of two things. Keep a stash of goodies in your child’s backpack or lunch box, OR ask the teacher if a stash can be stored in a cabinet in the classroom. This way, when your child cannot eat the treat that was brought, he can still enjoy something special.
Be sure to put some thought into these treats and make sure they are special. For example, if your child eats fruit snacks on a regular basis, don’t make that his dessert for birthday celebrations. Consider something different such as cookies, Rice Krispy Treats, etc. so he knows it’s truly a special occasion and feels just as much excitement as the other students!
HOW TO INCLUDE EVERYONE IF YOU'RE A NON-ALLERGY PARENT
Stress not! This is actually easier than you think! If you want to include all of the students, reach out to the allergy child’s parents and ask what their kid can eat. They will give you more recommendations than you could ever want! They’re used to talking about their child’s allergies and will be so thankful that you took the time to ask and learn.
PLEASE DO NOT try and bring something homemade! Stick to store-bought! Chances are if you cook it in your home, they probably won’t feel comfortable with their child eating it due to cross-contamination risks. Don’t be offended by this. Be thankful that this extra pressure isn’t added to your plate.
If your child insists on having his treat be something that is not allergy-friendly, that is okay! There are still easy and cost-effective ways to include everyone. Preschoolers love themed plates and napkins and treasure party-favor trinkets such as stickers or bracelets. Including something like these along with the choice of treat will still include all students.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE THE TEACHER
If you’re the teacher and have allergy-students in your classroom, your job is super important, but also just as easy! The key is making sure you communicate with the allergy parents!
- Let them know in advance when classroom birthdays will be celebrated.
- Ask parents ahead of time what dessert they’ll be bringing and for a list of ingredients. Share this with the allergy parent. This will take the stress off of you and leave the decision-making to them. They’ll be able to tell you instantly if their child can eat the snack or not.
- Ask the allergy parent if they have a special snack they’d like you to store in the classroom for their child. If not, ask where they’ll be storing treats, so you can easily find them in a backpack or lunch box during celebrations.
As we have navigated food allergies with pre-school birthday celebrations, I have learned a lot. Much of it is shared above and is beneficial for all of those involved. However, regardless of which type of celebration Gene experienced that day, regardless of the effort or lack of effort that was put into including him, and regardless of my efforts of planning ahead, I have learned that my little boy is resilient.
Gene gives me a play-by-play on the way home from preschool and you can bet that if a classmate’s birthday was celebrated, I’m going to hear about it! He will excitedly tell me who’s birthday it was, and then say something very matter of fact along the lines of, “They brought cupcakes, but they have nuts, eggs, and wheat in them, so I had cookies from my backpack.”
I always let that sink in for a moment (as another piece of my momma heart breaks) and then hesitantly ask, “Bud, does it make you feel sad that everyone else ate cupcakes and you had to eat something different?”
His answer is always the same, “No.”
These car conversations have never upset him, never even phased him in fact, but it has taken me some time to come to terms with them. Gene will always be different and he will always be excluded in some way when it comes to food. However, Gene has a quality of selflessness that is something to be admired. He is HAPPY to celebrate others, even if it means he doesn’t get anything out of it.
To all of my fellow allergy parents out there, know that your child will see the light even when you see darkness. The light is all that they see because it is all that they know, and that is something that cannot be taught. Be proud.