Parents of Kids with Food Allergies Love This Halloween Version of 'Elf on a Shelf'

From Woman's Day

Four years ago, business executive Audrey Kinsman moved to a new home in Denver with her family, not knowing that their new neighborhood was "trick-or-treat central," as she calls it. When the holiday rolled around, their fellow homeowners closed off the block in anticipation of hundreds of trick-or-treaters. It was a dream come true for Kinsman's two sons.

The only problem was that her younger son has a serious milk protein allergy-any candies made with milk chocolate, nougat, or caramel were off limits. Kinsman had dealt with a similar issue herself as a child (she has Celiac disease) but says it wasn't a problem because Halloween simply wasn't "that big" in the '80s. She asked her son to not eat any candy while he was out; they'd sort through it together at the end of the night.

Photo credit: Switch Witch

"When he got home and dumped his bag out, my son's big blue eyes welled up because he realized he couldn't eat 95% of the candy he'd just collected," Kinsman recalls.

She remembers going into "mommy mode," racking her brain for any distraction that might stop the tears. "I said, honey don't cry because the Switch Witch is coming and she'll replace the candy [you can't have] with a book or a toy.'"

Intrigued, her older son wanted in on the deal, too. Soon, the boys were peppering Kinsman with questions: How does the Switch Witch get into the house? What does she do with the candy? If we don't like the present, can we return it and get our candy back? Kinsman didn't invent the character-parents have been invoking the "good witch" to prevent overindulgence on Halloween for years-but there weren't readily available answers to her sons' curious inquiries.

Not long after, Kinsman was on a delayed flight that ended up stuck on the tarmac for hours. With plenty of time to think about the Switch Witch concept still bobbing around in her head, Kinsman decided to write a children's book that would explain the ins and outs of "switchcrafting." She finished the first draft on that flight.

The result is The Switch Witch and the Magic of Switchcraft, a hardcover book that comes with a doll similar to the Elf on the Shelf. The story explains that tiny witches need massive amounts of sweets to heat their homes and fuel their magic brooms, and they're willing to trade clothing, books, and toys for it.

If it sounds like another excuse for kids to amass more stuff, Kinsman says the gifts aren't meant to be on par with a birthday or Christmas. Parents and grandparents can use the opportunity to give children a book, small toy, or something they need for the season, like mittens and hats.

Kinsman says switchcrafting is ultimately an investment in your child's health. For those little ones with life-threatening food allergies, it's even more important. "If you've ever experienced your child going into anaphylactic shock, you know that [the alternative] is significantly more expensive," she says.

Parents have the chance to practice good behavior too. Switch Witch works with Operation Shoebox and Operation Gratitude, two organizations that send care packages to U.S. military members overseas. Leave the Halloween loot at a designated drop-off location and it'll go towards sweetening a soldier's day.

The Teal Pumpkin Project, which encourages houses offering allergy-friendly (i.e., non-food) treat on Halloween to communicate that by displaying a teal-colored pumpkin, is another partner of Switch Witch. Kinsman says both organizations have "the same objective of retooling a fast-growing holiday so that it's safe and fun for everyone."

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