As the school year approaches, many parents are beginning to wonder what this year will bring. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking over all our lives, the school will undoubtedly be different. However, for parents of children with food allergies, the stress is tenfold. With recipes changing and school lunches being less prevalent, parents are beginning to worry about sending their children to class. Will common food allergens become a bigger issue with home lunches becoming increasingly more popular? How can parents best prepare themselves and their children for the changes in the upcoming school year?
Speak to the School
We know that it can feel helpless but reaching out to your child’s school is super important. Teachers aren’t minded readers, and even the most helpful ones need to know that you need help. Pick up the phone, and you may be pleasantly surprised. Work with your child’s school to develop a plan that makes you and your child feel safe. Many schools have already become nut-free zones, and countless classrooms have cut out tuna fish or hummus to keep their students safe. Most people are understanding. You just need to give them the chance to learn.
One of the most important tools that you can send your child to school with is knowledge. Knowledge of their allergy, how to find it, how to avoid it, and how to treat it. Obviously, your child’s teacher should be given a plan too, but teachers can’t be everywhere all of the time. Your child’s allergy kit should have those essential items that would need in a worst-case scenario: an EpiPen, Benadryl, alcohol wipes, and hand sanitizer. Knowledge is power, and your child deserves the power to keep themselves safe.
Reach Out to Parents
Many parents will be happy to comply with your needs if you reach out to them. Before sending your child to school, take the time to reach out to the other parents in the class and make your issue clear. Explain what allergy your child has and which foods need to be avoided. Remind parents that allergies are no joking matter and can be hiding in places they wouldn’t even expect. Ask them to read labels, double-check snack bags, and be overall vigilant about the food they send into school.
Give Them a Voice
Your child can be their own advocate! As they take this next step in life, teach them how to stick up for their needs. Teach your child to remind the class about their allergies before a class party or when to approach the teacher if they feel like someone is insensitive. School is a great opportunity for your child to learn how to navigate the world with food allergies while still under strict and careful supervision.
Have a Backup Plan
While we fully endorse teaching your child responsibility and allowing them an opportunity to learn about their allergy, make sure you have a backup kit put in place. Whether it be with the school nurse, the principal, or with the teacher, this kit should be fully equipped with anything your child would need. Additionally, make sure that there is always an adult present who knows how to use an auto-injector and recognize an allergic reaction sign. When it comes to allergies, there is no such thing as reacting too quickly.
Speak to the Students
It is never too early to spread allergy awareness. Use this opportunity to speak to your child’s class and educate their peers on food allergies. Make them an active part of keeping your child safe. It is important to approach this subject delicately, make it clear you’re trusting the children with this responsibility. Remember that many children with food allergies experience social isolation, so try your best to be sensitive to this issue when speaking with the students.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that your child is safe, it to take an active role in their school life. For those parents that can, volunteering on school trips or offering to make a student’s birthday cake can be life-changing. We spend so much time worrying about our children that sometimes we overlook the simple solutions. That said, it is important to provide a balance. Make sure you are looking out for your child without impeding on their life. And feel free to take control as long as you still let the teacher run the show.
Labeling issues have been a hot topic lately, with the FDA allowing companies to change their ingredients without updating their labels due to COVID19. For many food allergy families, this has become just one more thing to worry about. Now, as our kids are about to head back to school, these labeling issues become scarier. Having a plan for your child while in school can help you and your child feel safer about starting the new year.