Every child wants to feel included in play dates and celebrations. As a parent of a child with cow’s milk allergy, sending your little one out into the world for play dates, nursery, birthday parties and other events can be especially daunting. How can you worry less and let your child join in all the fun? These steps can help your child with cow’s milk allergy continue to enjoy the best parts of being a kid.

Practise makes perfect

Teaching your child how to be safe around milk products can start right in your own kitchen, where they are comfortable and you are in control. Ask your child’s healthcare team if it’s ok to have milk products in the home so you can start teaching them valuable lessons about managing cow’s milk allergy. Practising at home can prepare them for when they visit others — and make the experience feel more normal. What you cover will depend on your child’s age. Some possibilities include looking at food labels for hidden milk (see Which foods contain cow’s milk protein? In Introducing new foods, finding milk-free substitutes and creating your own colour-coded labels for safe choices.

Keep the focus positive

Talk about all of the good things surrounding an upcoming event rather than dwelling on your worries about your child’s cow’s milk allergy. By changing the focus from just food to include fun, you can help your child see how the enjoyment will outweigh any awkward food moments. At the same time, don’t demonise special treats — there are lots of milk-free options and recipes waiting to be found.

Send allergy friendly snacks

One way to ensure that your child will have something milk-free to eat is to pack food to bring along. A few ideas for older children include chopped fruit, vegetable sticks and hummus, popcorn, crackers made without cow’s milk, sandwiches made without milk products and rice cakes. If your child is going to a special event at which you know cake will be served, why not provide them with a cupcake made with a milk substitute for them to enjoy at cake time? If you make enough of them to share, store your child’s portion in a separate container to avoid cross contact from other little hands dipping in and out.

Have a talk with the teacher or parent in charge

You’ll want to give a quick lesson in cow’s milk allergy to anyone who’s looking after them. You need to be sure they understand the importance of sticking to the routine you’ve put in place. Get advice on explaining cow’s milk allergy to other people. 

Organisations like Food Allergy Research and Education, Kids with Food Allergies and Allergy UK offer extensive guidelines on keeping classrooms safe for children with allergies, including those with cow’s milk allergy. These include rules such as prohibiting kids from sharing food and requiring handwashing before eating. You can use the tools suggested in their recommendations to educate other parents about cow’s milk allergy too.

Also, be aware that certain art supplies and activities may expose kids to milk. A few possible offenders are some types of finger paints, shaving creams and dust-free chalk. Check labels (if available), verify ingredients by contacting the manufacturer, or look for recipes to make your own milk-free supplies.

Ask lots of questions

Be sure to ask lots of questions — in a friendly way — about what your child will be doing during a play date or school day. The more you understand what your little one will encounter, the better prepared you can be and the easier it will be for you to send them off to explore all that childhood has to offer.