Not long ago, I dropped my son Daniel off at new friend’s house for an overnight party. I trusted my son to eat only what I sent, but was concerned that allergen-containing snacks might cause a problem while sharing video game controllers.
So I met the parents, explained my son’s allergies and the bag of safe snacks I sent for them to share. The hosting mom said, “Don’t worry. We’re a pediatrician and a nurse. We’ll take care of him. And we won’t let him eat anything that is not safe for him. Does he have his epinephrine auto-injector?” Wow! I drove away almost giddy.
Our kids have a right to access the world, but we need to rely on others. Transferring the care and oversight of our child can be nerve-racking. Never is this more evident than at your child’s first sleepover or slumber party.
This rite of passage doesn’t have to be one that you dread. With a step-by-step approach, kids with food allergies can enjoy sleepovers. Just begin your preparation before your child ever receives that first invitation.
1. Start Slowly
Try a sleepover at grandma’s or another trusted relative. From there, try a one-on-one sleepover with a friend whose parents your child knows and trusts. Don’t begin with a pajama party, which can be chaotic.
2. Tweak the Timing
Sleepovers typically involve multiple meals and snacks, but you can work around this. When my son didn’t want to stand out with special food, we fed him at home before he left. Or, pick up your child before breakfast. If there are environmental concerns, or your child is nervous, pick him or her up at 11 p.m. She’s already had all of the fun socializing.
3. Have the Talk
Discuss your child’s food allergies and special instructions with the hosting parents prior to the event. You’ll get a sense of their understanding and willingness to care for your child. Not every family is willing or able to accommodate a child with severe food allergies.
4. Do the Heavy Lifting
Unless you’re completely confident in someone’s ability to prepare allergy-friendly food safely, you’ll need to provide options for the meals, snacks, party cake and treats.
5. Have a Plan B
If for some reason the environment is not quite right, offer to host the sleepover at your house. Most parents are grateful for this. If your child is ready to venture out but still insecure, let him or her and the hosting parents know that you’re willing to pick your child up at any hour if needed.
6. Get Packin’
I’d rather overpack for my son so he has what he might need in an unfamiliar environment. Here’s my list:
- Medications: Epinephrine and any other prescribed medications are top the list. If the child is young, these go directly to the parent in charge. If older, your child can keep medications with their things, but tell the adult where they’re located.
- Food: Depending on your child’s allergies and what meals are served, you might furnish safe chips, a frozen pizza and disposable baking sheet, a special cupcake, etc. Breakfast can be tricky, especially since doughnuts are a popular sleepover breakfast. Consider taking along individually wrapped homemade muffins. I’ve also sent cereal and rice milk.
- Bedding: We send a pillow and pillowcase with my son’s name written on it for overnight visits. Sleeping bags are helpful if your child has dust mite or pet allergies.
- Toiletries: While I have no evidence that either of my sons ever brushed their teeth at a sleepover, I send a toothbrush, toothpaste and paper cup. The toothbrush is labeled with my son’s name, and he’s reminded to use the disposable cup (rather than one in the bathroom). I put these in a clear, Ziploc bag labeled with my son’s name.
- Water: If your child gets nervous or will need a drink of water at night, provide a labeled water bottle.
- Wipes: Use pre-moistened wipes for a quick wash after playing outside, with pets and before eating.
- Cell phone: It’s reassuring for your child to have a way to contact you directly.
- Contact Info: I always put my phone numbers and my husband’s on a colored card, and hand it to the host.
When the big day comes, remind yourself that there are six million kids with food allergies in the United States and most have slept over without any dire consequences. You’ve done your homework, your ducks are in a row, so do your best not to let your fear put a damper on your child’s excitement. His tired, happy face at pickup time will have made it all worthwhile.
Gina Clowes is a certified life coach and consultant; who helps parents and schools advocate for children with food allergies. She is the founder of AllergyMoms.com, a support community serving thousands.
Read More From Gina Clowes:
9 Steps to Find Self-Care After Feeling Allergy Burnout
Food Allergies: Hot Tips For Kissing Safely
Siblings and Food Allergies: Don’t Overlook the Needs of Your Non-Allergic Child