Last week, my son had his very first childhood sleepover at a friend’s house. As the mother of a child with life-threatening food allergies, the first sleepover is waaaaaaayyyy out of my comfort zone. Still, my son is a child first and we work hard not to let his food allergies define him as a person so we sat down as a family and put Operation Sleepover into play.
I immediately squashed the protests from the panicky voices in my head telling me all the things that could possibly go wrong. A simple sleepover at a friend’s house would be completely doable with some careful planning and a whole lot of faith.
Here are some strategies we used to ensure a safe and FUN sleepover at a friend’s house:
- Call the child’s parents the week of the sleepover to discuss your child’s specific food allergies, how a reaction normally presents itself, and what to do if he/she experiences allergy-based distress.
- Ask the parents what kind of activities they have planned. In our case, the mom was extremely eager to make it a safe and fun experience for my son and asked a few food-allergy friendly restaurants and snacks that would be safe for him. In most cases, I think reviewing these things ahead of time gives you, your child, and the hosting family a peace of mind about the evening.
- Review your child’s food allergy action plan with him/her. I was careful to speak with my son about recognizing allergy-based distress and how to alert an adult of the problem.
- Discuss the importance of double-checking ingredients with adults before consuming food (even though the mother and I had already done this via phone, I was empowering my son to take on the responsibility of managing his own allergies). *Special Note: While it is a good idea to review the food allergy action plan with your child, please do so in a calm, non-threatening manner. It is important for the child to understand his/her role in managing their food allergies at the sleepover without becoming paralyzed by fear.*
- Be there for your child. Tell your child they can call you at any time during the sleepover. Write down your cell number and put it in your child’s bag so they can contact you if they have a question or feel nervous at any time.
- Give your child confidence. Don’t send your child off to a sleepover with an overwraught expression or tears streaming down your face. Kids can sense our fear and knowing their parents are uneasy will make them uneasy about the night ahead. Let your child know that you love them and that you believe in them.
- Tell your child it’s okay to have fun. While it’s important for children to be vigilant when on their own, it is equally as important to acknowledge the fact that the sleepover should be a fun event that shouldn’t cause unnecessary anxiety.
By using the above strategies for my own son’s sleepover at a friend’s house, I slept peacefully through the night (except for a midnight phone call to say goodnight) and my son safely had a blast!