Sending your food allergic child back to school, or off to school for the very first time, is a nerve-racking experience. You’ve likely spent time considering your child’s day and thinking through potential dangers. You may have already met with your child’s teacher and school to make sure they understand your needs and can accommodate them to the best of their ability. But the reality is, there is no guarantee of safety. Even under the very best of circumstances, mistakes can happen. Of course you are anxious! While we can’t protect our children every minute of every day, it is our belief that with thorough planning and the proper tools, we can work to reduce risk and make our child’s day at school as safe as possible. Here are some of our suggestions:
(1) Talk with your child’s teacher and school and make an allergy action plan you feel is appropriate. Be detailed and consider every aspect of your child’s day:
– How will the staff at school get trained so they understand your child’s allergies and needs? What happens if there are volunteers or substitute teachers in the classroom?
What happens on field trips?
– Where will your child’s medications be stored and who is trained/allowed to administer
them in case of emergency?
– How does your child get to and from school?
– Are there materials in the classroom that might be dangerous?
– Where will your child eat snacks and lunch and with whom? Is there a designated allergy zone or table? How are the food preparation and eating surfaces cleaned?
– How are birthdays and other celebrations handled? Will you get advance notice so
you can send your child with a safe treat?
(2) Consider writing a letter to the other families in your child’s class. Tell them your story and ask for their understanding and cooperation in helping to keep your child safe.
For parents of younger children, you might ask them to emphasize the need for proper hand washing and not sharing food. For parents of older children, it might be appropriate to initiate a discussion about bullying around food and identify things their child can do to help in that sort of situation. Although not every person will understand and support your child’s needs, making a personal appeal will go a long way in gaining cooperation.
(3) Schools are busy and, with the current economic situation, often overcrowded and lacking in resources.
Human error happens, especially during busy and chaotic times in the school day. Consider using a label to highlight your child’s allergies. We’ve found that a bold visual reminder can be a helpful cue to the adults taking care of your child. You can place them on clothing, backpacks, and lunchboxes.
(4) Does your child wear a medical identification bracelet?
Check out Allerbling. Designed by a mom of a son with severe allergies, it is bright, colorful, and cute! Allthings that will likely appeal to your child. And what will appeal to you is that it helps visually communicate your child’s needs and is durable.
(5) If you have a young child with food allergies, The BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies is a wonderful book that helps normalize your child’s experience.
Read it at home, we’re sure it will quickly become one of your child’s favorite books. And think about buying an extra copy to donate to your child’s daycare or classroom. It will also help other children become more aware of food allergies in a cute and approachable way.