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One Sunday when a mother checked in her son through a window leading to the children’s church room she saw him with his head down throwing a fit. To the normal eye this would look like just that – a child just wanting to throw a fit. However, at further examination the reason for the fit was seen. The worker in church was trying to give the boy a juice to drink that he was allergic to. The boy recognized this, but did not know how to react – so he buried his head in his hands and cried instead of taking the juice. Thankfully the mom was there at this moment and could intercede. There are two points to this story: 1) A parent can’t always be there to protect her child. 2) There are children with food allergies attending church.

Food allergies in young children are high on the rise. 1 in 13 children has a food allergy according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). With so many children having food allergies the following are precautionary measures that parents and children’s church workers can take to keep children with food allergies safe:

1) Educate

A body’s reaction to food allergies can become serious quickly. Simple symptoms such as a runny nose or cough can progress into hives and difficulty breathing fast. Anaphylactic shock, which is life-threatening, can come upon a person quickly, especially if the reaction goes unnoticed by others who could help. It is very important that workers in children’s church are trained and educated in what signs and symptoms of food allergy reactions are. Food Allergy Resource and Education (FARE) has many resource materials for education on this topic. The Allergy and Asthma Network is also a great place for resources.

2)Practice

As children get older it is important to teach them which foods they can and cannot have. Then, role playing is a must so that they are confident in speaking up for themselves. A simple game of offering them a food and having them practice saying, “No thank you, I am allergic,” is a great way to empower children. They then become advocates for their health and don’t feel scared when a church worker offers a food they cannot have. Workers in children’s church can also be requested to ask each child first, “Can you have this food?,” prior to placing it in front of them.

3) Remind

Each Sunday there may be a different worker in children’s church. It is essential that every worker ever Sunday is reminded to keep an eye on your child’s health. A reminder of what they cannot eat is imperative. A parent may feel like this is being an annoyance or a pest, but a simple reminder could save a child’s life. In addition to verbally reminding, having the child wear a lanyard with a tag that contains info of his or her food allergies is very helpful to all of those in the room. Reminderband also provides the opportunity to design a wristband a child can wear. Info such as which foods the child is allergic to and contact info for the parents are good ideas to put on this wrist band.

4) Plan

In addition to these procedures to keep children safe and secure in children’s church – the parents of a child with food allergies should have an agreed plan with church workers as to handle their child’s allergic reaction. If the parents want workers to contact them immediately with any allergic symptom, this needs to be discussed. If the parents want workers to be able to use an epipen on their child, consent forms need to be filled out and workers need to be trained. A communication system needs to be in place as to how to communicate reactions. Will the worker call the parent’s cell phone? Will an extra worker walk to the sanctuary to get the parent? Will the child be brought to the sanctuary to the parent? A plan needs to be in place – with the fact that anaphylxis is a severe reaction that can happened within seconds of contact with the offending food. Time is a crucial factor when dealing with food allergies. A great action plan to use can be viewed here.

5) Inclusion

It is always a sad thing to see a child isolated from a group. Children with food allergies tend to get isolated. Not only do they get stuck watching everyone else devour a food they cannot have, but most times they are placed at a table by themselves or even in a different room all alone during snack time. Here are a few ways to include and not isolate a child with food allergies:

  • Have a procedure in place where children wash their hands before and AFTER eating so that the offending food is not spread to other objects.
  • Explain what food allergies are to the class and that some people can get very sick from certain foods so that other children can be understanding of the medical condition and that they need to keep their hands to themselves during eating time.
  • Post a list of the snacks the church plans on giving out for the month. That way the parents can decide whether or not they should bring a different snack for their child that week.
  • Find out what kind of foods everyone can have and utilize this list so that the snack provided fits everyone’s needs.

Conclusion

An easy way to not have to worry about food allergies in children’s church is to simply not have snack as a part of the children’s program. However, snack seems to be a part of almost every program. Precautionary measures such as educating, reminding, planning, practicing, inclusion can indeed be in place to keep a child with food allergies safe. Such a condition is not one to be taken lightly. Every child should have the chance to be a part of a children’s church program and learn great Bible stories and concepts. With parents and church leaders working together in agreement information from this article will allow more children to be safe despite of their allergies.

 

Lights UP North writes from deep inside the great Northern Woods in hopes of bringing inspiration, encouragement, and hope to others. Ministering to those who are suffering from eczema and allergies is another strong passion for Lights UP North.

Lights UP North’s official webpage.

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