Protecting Your Child From Food Allergies at Preschool
You've gotten through skin testing or blood testing and nailed down the food culprits causing your child to react. You've worked through the kinks with neighbors and in-laws, and your hubby remembers the Epi-Pen (almost) every time, and just when you feel you might just have a handle on this allergything, you realize that it's time to plan for pre-school.
Many of you have already selected a school; others are still shopping for the perfect learning environment. If you have other children, you realize how different it is with a food allergic child. When they are young, finding teachers and administrators who "get" food allergies is always at the top of the requirement list. If you are sending your first child to preschool with food allergies on top of it, it can be a scary and challenging time.
So where do you start?
If you haven't already found a school, start by asking friends and neighbors even if their children are older. Often mothers will recall the special precautions taken for allergic children.
When calling or visiting preschools, ask if they have a food allergy policy. You may be fortunate enough to live in one of the ten states that have already established food allergy guidelines or policies and many of these will have trickled down to the preschool level. While only about 20% of schools are peanut- and nut-free, peanut-free preschools are more common these days. How these schools handle other food allergies and how they enforce their own policies is a different story.
Next, think about your child's allergies and history of reactions. Talk with your child's physician and decide ahead of time on some reasonable accommodations. The point is that you should have in mind ahead of time what you'd prefer, what you'd accept and bottom line for each issue that will affect your child's well being in the classroom.
In these cases, if the school cannot meet your minimum requirements, cross it off of the list. For example, your best case scenario might be a peanut-free school, but you'd consider a school that is "allergy aware." However, a school that would allow peanut products all over the classroom might be crossed off your list.
You might start out by discussing how daily snacks and drinks will be handled and how birthdays and holidays are celebrated. If your child will not be able to participate in these celebrations, you may want to send a box of "safe" treats that he or she can eat when the rest of the class is having the birthday treat. Many preschool teachers will also require students to wash their hands as they enter the classroom and again after snack time to prevent cross-contamination in the classroom.
You may prefer to attend field trips but if not, you'll want to request that a trained adult who carries your child's medications will be there to take responsibility for your child. In fact, you'll want to know who will be responsible for your child's medications when the class leaves the building for fire drills, recess or on any occasion.
You will want to go over arts and crafts materials and suggest or provide alternatives for unsafe ones. If your child has allergies to pets or pet food, you will need to decide how these issues will be addressed if there are classroom pets.
Teachers and aides should be trained in avoiding, recognizing and treating allergic reactions and this will include substitute teachers. The location of the epinephrine auto-injectors (Epi-Pen or Twinject) is important as is the protocol for handling a reaction. Your child's Food Allergy Action Plan or Individual Health Care Plan (similar forms that serve the same purpose) should be discussed and agreed upon ahead of time. Some parents include a script for calling 911 should the need arise.
Once you've selected a school and have agreed upon accommodations needed, the next step is working with your child. Make sure he knows that he must report any type of an allergic reaction to the teacher immediately. And if your child will not be able to partake in birthday or other classroom celebrations, help her learn to cope with this by picking out some snacks for a "safe treat box". Most important, make sure he knows never to trade food and only to eat what you have checked or provided.
Last but not least, take care to keep your own anxiety in check. Although food allergies are becoming more common today, severe reactions are not. We can never guarantee our children's safety in any endeavor. But if you've done your own homework, you can relax and enjoy your "time off" while your little one enjoys a great time at preschool.