Before I share some tips for dealing with school parties, such as any Valentine's Day celebrations that may be on the horizon for you, I want to share a link to an article about Illinois and how they handle food allergies at school, with regard to new legislation. I was interviewed for this article (you see my comments near the end of the piece) and I sincerely hope that schools are listening and paying attention to all sides of the "treats at school" debate.
Unfortunately, we just got more evidence of why schools really need to watch the extraneous food and snacks. I just read on Allergic Living's Facebook page, that yet again, another child was put into danger at school due to "sweet treats." Apparently, an unaware substitute teacher handed the child a chocolate with a hazelnut and the 7-year-old boy went into cardiac arrest after he ate. His life was most likely saved by nearly immediate epinephrine usage by his mother, as this happened to him at the end of the school day. The child was wearing his autoinjector and she was able to give it to him immediately. However, he still suffered two heart attacks. Is this enough to stop the constant candy-giving???? Another point: the candy had hazelnut, not peanut. People don't realize how serious tree nut allergies are and tend to focus on peanut. If your child has both or just tree nut, be sure that everyone understands the difference. I find it helps to name the tree nuts for people such as pistachio, hazelnut, walnut, almond, etc.
I would suggest forwarding both of these articles to your school, especially if you have had difficulties bringing home the seriousness of food allergies. Enough is enough. Most 7-year-olds will take candy if offered to them--so don't offer it to them!!! This is so simple to do. Something as simple as eliminating candy as a reward can save lives.
According to the article about the child who had the reaction, the candy in question was to celebrate another student's birthday. What happened to singing "Happy Birthday?" Our school gives each "birthday child" a free book of their choice from the school office and their birthday is announced during the beginning of the school day over the PA system. What about that? Or a sticker? Or nothing at all? Don't most kids get b-day treats at home anymore???
If I sound disgusted, I am. It's not that I'm against candy, birthdays or celebrations. I'm for all of them, but not as a focus at school. Why? It's just crazy to me that despite all the guidelines, laws and meetings, all the caution and care that most of a school staff will devote to food allergies can go out the window because one person is unaware. That's why I say no more food at school that isn't pre-approved. NO allergic child should be offered sweets, treats or outside food that wasn't provided from their own homes. Period. That would pretty much solve it.
I don't want to scare any of you off of school parties. Usually, if parents are involved and informed and teachers are kept up to speed, everything will go OK. However, incidents do happen and I think a proactive approach is called for at all times.
Here's what to do if your child's classroom is having a Valentine's Day party:
1. Give the teacher a heads-up now. Don't wait until the week of, or even a few days before. Speak to the teacher, send an e-mail, pick up the phone, your choice, but make it a point to find out what is going on with regard to food. Does food have to be offered? If it is, offer to send in a safe treat and then emphasize that your child sticks to that and that only.
2. Check the crafts. Are any edible crafts being done or is food being used for inedible crafts? Ask now. These are a bad idea unless everyone is on the same page about what is safe and what isn't. I've found that is usually not the case, so suggest an alternative craft if you must. The store Michael's has tons of craft ideas; so does Target.
3. Be careful of candy in the actual Valentine. People love to attach candy to valentines. It's cute, no doubt, but can be hazardous to a kid with food allergies. Instruct your child not to eat candy on their Valentine and alert the teacher (depending on your child's age and maturity) to be on the lookout for this.
4. Send home a note a week before the party. Ask your child's teacher to send home a reminder note of what to avoid sending. If you have a dairy-free, nut-free classroom, for example, be sure to include some suggestions of safe brands and treats. If people are intent on bringing food, at least they will have some idea of what is OK for the kids with allergies.
5. Role play with your child. This may be the most important point. It's never too early to teach a child to refuse food they are not sure of. Our rule has always been: "When in doubt, do without." Teach your child to be polite but firm when offered food that may not be safe. This would pretty much include all candy and baked goods you have not sent to school, but pretzels, chips and popcorn brands can also be unsafe. Our daughter has always refused food since she we knew of her allergy and your child can learn to do the same. They will need this skill their entire life; why not start now?
If there's anything you think I've missed, please share it with us. We can make our school parties safe but you must speak up.