Reality television star, Kim Whitley, created a line of food allergy awareness shirts that she is selling online. Due to her media presence, these shirts have gotten the attention of ABC news and are creating some buzz. This is not the first time t-shirts have been used to inform and generate awareness for food allergies. Captain Jack's Peanut Free Pirates has already been distributing food allergy awareness t-shirts for children.
The difference between Kim's line of t-shirts and other's like Captain Jack's is the straight forward, "no-frills" message. Kim's t-shirts are basically a memo printed on a shirt. In fact, you are asked to fill in the blanks and check boxes with a marker right on the shirt. This is certainly a no nonsense approach to food allergy safety. But, is it the right one?
When dropping off a very young child with severe food allergies at a new environment where there will be food available, Kim's t-shirts may very well be appropriate and offer parents peace of mind. These t-shirts are geared toward young children that are unable to communicate their food allergy needs, and may be perfect for specific situations. However, parents need to be careful when choosing such a poster board method of communication. Older children, even age 5, may be reluctant to wear the this type of t-shirt each day for good reason. Although it is essential to be upfront about your food allergy, it is not necessary to be defined by it. Older children with food allergies find themselves set apart during snack time, lunch time, and even at celebrations. They do not need a shirt advertising their differences all day long. As children get older, it is important to teach them how to keep themselves safe around food and to let those closest to them know about their disease.
In our quest to keep our children safe, we must remember children's strong desire to belong. Work with your child on what is comfortable to them and what needs to be done when addressing their food allergy in a public setting and find what works best for your family. The solution most likely will change over time.
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