It's that time of year again -- school will be starting soon. What should be an exciting time in your child's life can also be very stressful if they've got food allergies. While other parents are hoping their child likes their teacher and makes new friends quickly, parents of children with food allergies have the added concern of making sure their child doesn't have an allergic reaction at school, and if they do, making sure that the school is equipped to handle the situation properly.
This subject will be a two-part blog:
(1) Steps I took to make sure the school administrators and Meredith could deal with her condition.
(2) Obstacles you may run into with your child's classmates, and, surprisingly enough, some parents who don't want to be considerate or understanding about the situation.
My oldest daughter, Meredith, started kindergarten last year and I was determined to make sure everyone who came in contact with her was aware of her condition. For most parents, the first opportunity to make contact with their child's teacher is during open house, which usually takes place a few days before school starts. Given that open houses are always crowded, and the teacher is trying to meet 15-18 sets of parents within two hours, I was concerned that the details of Meredith's condition would not be remembered. I followed up my initial conversation with Meredith's teacher with an e-mail and a phone call to discuss the particulars of her allergies.
I also typed a list of the specifics of Meredith's condition to give to the teacher, to include examples of things she could and couldn't eat to ensure her teacher had adequate information to understand Meredith's allergies. I also took the opportunity to find out if there would be class parties throughout the year in which food might be brought in for the class to eat. This helped me know when I needed to make contact with other mothers throughout the year to make sure I brought suitable substitutes for Meredith to eat.
In the days leading up to school starting, I also talked with the school nurse to make certain she understood Meredith's allergies, and that all the required paperwork was filed with the front office so medication could be administered quickly in the event of an allergic reaction. It was during this conversation that the nurse told me she would attend all field trips with Meredith so that medication could be given by a qualified person if she had an allergic reaction.
I was grateful that our school system was willing to go to such lengths to make sure my daughter was protected at all times. Of course, all school systems are different. I suggest checking your school's procedures for field trips, and if they can't send the individual trained to administer medication with your child on the trip, it may be better if you attend the field trip as a precautionary measure.
Also, as stated in my previous blogs, please make sure you educate your child. I always remind Meredith not to swap food with other kids in her class, and for her to be open with her friends about her food allergies. I believe if the other children are fully aware of Meredith's food allergy that it helps them develop awareness of the problem at a young age, and I believe it helps alleviate Meredith's anxieties about being different. I've noticed that when she talks to other children about her allergies, she seems to become more relaxed about it because the information is out there. If a child isn't encouraged to openly discuss their allergies, then they run the risk of developing a sense of shame about their condition, as if it's something to hide.
There are several children's books available on-line that help explain food allergies in terms small children can understand. You may want to ask the teacher if you can read one of these books at storytime to help explain food allergies to the class. Another benefit to making sure your child's friends know about their allergies is that they can help raise the alarm if your child is having a reaction and there doesn't happen to be an adult in the immediate vacinity.
I hope these tips help as you start the new school year. Please check back next week as I discuss some not-so-pleasant interactions you may have to deal with as your food allergic child enters the school years.
Published On: August 13, 2008