These tips come from years of birthday party experiences with my son, Nathan who has Celiac.
1. If your child is under the age of 7, take food with you to the party and be present at the party, unless you want to give instructions to the Mother, who probably has enough to take care of with her own children and the others attending. (Prepare some frozen cake bites for these occasions. Take them out of the freezer the night before you leave, and you are set!)
2. Let your young child put his or her food on the party plates provided so they feel a part of the event.
3. Begin to train your child at a young age that the birthday party is a celebration of the person’s birth. The emphasis should be on the event and the people celebrated, not the food that they can or cannot have. Do not talk about “the food” constantly before and during the event! This is hard for Moms of Celiac children.
4. FEED YOUR CHILD before he/she goes to the party because when they are over 10 years old it’s not “cool” to bring your own food and have to “explain” why. They want to be in the mix, and they don’t like to draw (what they consider to be) negative attention to themselves.
5. If they are staying over night, it has to be cool to pack your own food and you can help it become “cool” by bringing something to share with their friends (Remember, homemade is cheaper than store bought and usually tastes better too). It helps that gluten free is “in” now!
6. Teach your older child to ask politely what the ingredients are in the food that is being served because there are usually one or two things they will be able to eat or things that they think they can eat that they actually can’t.
7. Remember that parties are ripe for cross contamination so be careful and come prepared with your enzymes and use your evening medication before bed.
8. If your child is asked to sleep over, weigh whether it is worth it, to have your child sick for 2 weeks, if they are not responsible enough to say “no thank you”. This happens frequently with Jr. High age children. They really need to be mature enough to speak out. If they aren’t ready for this, don’t apologize and cave. If you allow them to abuse themselves, it will become a pattern. They believe that the sickness is worth it to be “accepted” by their peers. So, it’s not so much about the “gluten” at this age as it is about self worth. Help them see that others will accept them when they accept themselves. If they aren’t sure about themselves and their decisions neither are their friends and that’s when they are vulnerable to peer pressure.
9. Yes, it is bad manners to ask a party host to provide gluten free food for your child. (If you are a close friend, they will probably remember you and provide, but it needs to be their idea, not yours.)
10. Having Celiac is a way to teach your child that life is full of burdens we must bear. If they carry it well, they can make a huge difference in the lives of others. If they complain and make themselves “special” everywhere they go, they are seen as and will become selfish. We all have bad days, but we should strive to think of others first, even if we have the burden of a disease. Remember, as a parent, it is your responsibility to teach your children to embrace what they have been given and not to focus on the hardship, but on the opportunity they have to bless the lives of other people with the other wonderful aspects of their personality and lives.