Friday, September 10, 2010

Teacher New to Peanut Allergy? Here's What To Do

I've been hearing from many readers about school-related issues lately and one of the most frequent issues that pops up is dealing with a teacher who has never dealt with nut allergies. This is becoming less frequent of an occurence, but it still happens.

In fact, it happened to our family. My daughter's first grade teacher had been teaching for 20+ years and was a lovely person. However, she had never had a peanut-allergic student. Terror raced through my body when I first spoke to her and got this news. With my daughter being so young, I was especially concerned.

Despite my initial worries, this teacher turned out to be a great supporter of our daughter and the time spent in the class went really well. In fact, the teacher decided to speak of our daughter's allergy to the entire class (with our go-ahead, of course) and she even shared her own medical issues (asthma) with the class. She showed them her inhaler and then discussed Alexandra's Epi Pen. It was only one example of how well she handled the whole thing.

However, I know that teachers new to nut allergies are sometimes completely freaked out by the situation. I've had other adults I've had to help learn about nut allergies and here is what has worked for me.

Discuss symptoms. Many people are afraid they won't recognize an allergic reaction when they see one. Give a list of explicit symptoms to look out for and what steps to take. Food Allergy Emergency Action Plans are a great tool for this. You can find them at the FAAN website.

Emphasize that you are the teacher's partner. Explaining how you will help throughout the school year, either by providing safe treats, volunteering at field trips or pitching in at a party shows you are involved. If you have a busy work schedule and can't always volunteer, checking in before major events for a review is really helpful.

Educate the educator. Some teachers have no idea of the basics of a food allergy so don't leave them in the dark. Refer them to the FAAN website, provide them with brochures from your allergist or feel free to send them to this blog so they can understand what they are dealing with. Every adult I've shared info with has really appreciated getting the knowledge.

Keep the lines of communication open all year. Teachers are human; with all the other kids they have to care for, sometimes they will forget the allergy protocol. Don't assume the worst. If a slip-up occurs, schedule time to discuss the situation in a non-accusatory manner. The teacher wants the school year to go smoothly as much as you do and reminders are something you should anticipate. I've never had only one conversation about food allergies with any of my child's teachers. It's an ongoing discussion.

Now it's your turn. What has (or hasn't) worked for you? Let us know!


Anonymous said...

Jenny, do you know of any local bakeries or places to buy Halloween shaped cookies that are nut-free that kids can decorate with frosting at school Halloween party? They do not allow homemade. Thanks, Cathy

Debi said...

Hi! So glad I stumbled onto your site. My son just entered 1st grade and has life threatening tree nut allergies. (Cashew, Walnut, Pistachio). He can eat peanuts and almonds with no problem. We avoid all other nuts because we've never been certain if he'll have a reaction. Luckily our 1st grade teacher has a daughter with a peanut allergy, so she is on the ball. My son wears a red "tree nut allergy" bracelet (Amazon, Stat kids) and is well versed in what he can and cannot eat. He cannot share any food from another child's lunch, but we do allow him to sit with everyone at lunch, rather than at the "nut free" tables that are available in his school. Even though tree nuts are in so many products, I find this allergy easier to control than a peanut allergy. Just my personal opinion. We all love peanut butter and peanuts so thankfully we did not have to clear the house of those items.

The Mindful Merchant said...

My friend has a daughter with life threatening peanut/seed allergies. She goes into school and reads a book written for kids to her daughters class. I find that young classmates become advocates for a child with allergies. It's wonderful.

Nicole Smith said...

Great suggestions! It is amazing that there are teachers who have yet to experience their first food allergic student.

We found that to be true this year in high school with my son. He is on the front end of the wave of food allergic kids...the trailblazer!

On we have an e-book "How to Send Your Food Allergic Child to School" under our link 'Food Allergies & Schools.' It's based upon our 10+ years of what works with preschools and beyond!

Amy @ Using Our Words said...

Thanks for the tips! My youngest still has a nut allergy that I'm hopeful he'll outgrow, but I feel for you. I recently wrote a post with peanut-free lunch ideas that your readers might enjoy. Let's all help keep these kids safe!

Chanel said...

This a great site that I came across from twitter moms. My daughter has peanut allergies as well. She is only 2 so she can't really communicate or understand that she can't have peanuts. I gave a list of her allergies to the school and spoke directly with her teacher. That very Friday; they gave my daughter a peanut butter sandwich. Which part of peanut is unclear?!? I was infuriated. Luckily, the reaction was caught before she even swallow the sandwich.

I am always worried about my daughter because she LOVES to eat. Even though I have tried to explain to her about her allergies; I know she doesn't quite understand yet. What do you do when a child is so young?

Jenny said...

Hi Chanel--Glad you found me. :) When a child is only 2, you're right--it's very hard. Toddlers are tough for anyone--add a peanut allergy and then it's really difficult.

I would keep doing what you're doing, that is educating everyone around your daughter about the seriousness of her allergies.

Obviously, you need to keep your child away from any unsafe foods--this sometimes means physically intercepting the foods. Sometimes this also means not participating in activities if unsafe foods are present and the adults around aren't fully understanding food allergies. When your daughter is older, she will learn but right now you've got to be her peanut patrol.

As far as the teacher, she needs to be spoken with again, preferably with the school director listening in. You just can't have that--offering your daughter a PB sandwich? She's not "getting" it. I would have another meeting with the school and once again provide all of the allergy info you have for your daughter. When my daughter was in daycare, I use a binder with her allergies, safe foods she CAN eat and emergency plans plus a page on using the EpiPen. I would also bring a jar of Sunbutter to the school so they have an idea of a safe, peanut-free PB alternative.

Please let me know how it goes and keep in touch! Best, Jenny

muffintopmommy said...

Congratulations on being the twitter moms' blog of the week. My blog, muffintopmommy, was the blog of the week last week, coincidentally. I actually already follow your blog (small blog world) and follow you on twitter bc my oldest has a severe nut allergy. Your blog is a wonderful resource, so thank you. It's nice for us peanut moms to know we're not alone. Keep it up! :)

Miss Magpie said...

I LOVE your blog! Just the resource/voice I have been looking for for years (thanks @twittermoms).

I have an 11 yr old son who has a tree-nut allergy (the worst culprits are Cashew and pistachio) but to the outside world we refer to it as "all nuts". When school starts each year I ask his teachers to send a the following letter home to ALL of the parents in his class alerting them that there is a child in the class with a life threatening food allergy:

Dear Parents:

Our son, XXX, is in Ms. XXX 6th grade class. He has a life threatening allergy to any tree nut product. Touching another child’s food or wiping his mouth after contact with these products in any way can cause him to go into anaphylactic shock—and then only 15 minutes to live.

Many foods you may never suspect have tree nut products in them. The most likely culprits are crackers, cookies, cereal and other baked goods. Attached you will find a guide to reading food labels for a tree nut free diet.

We would ask that you please consider his safety when sending snacks to school. We understand this is a lot to ask and can’t begin to express how much we appreciate your consideration and concern for his well being.

Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call us at XXX-XXXX.

Best Regards,


Jenny said...

Hi Anonymous--are you interested in ordering Halloween cookies online or do you want to do a local pickup? Storefront nut-free bakeries are few and far between locally but there are some online ordering options. Let me know! Send me an e-mail at for more info. Thanks!--Jenny

karbear said...

I need an opinion what about an Adult with Severe allergy to peanuts/tree nuts. Who is a student teacher in a classroom and her mentor teacher freaks out about it and doesn't know what to do. I tried explaining if she could please have the kids wash hands after snack, I can't even be around it and acted like I told her someone died. What do I do? I am afraid she will say she doesn't want me to be her student teacher and irony is I was her student in preschool I developed my allergy in college.

Jenny said...

Since you have already spoken to this teacher and have a previous relationship, try one more time to speak with her. Her fears may come from ignorance about allergies. Surely as a mentor AND teacher she will need to learn. You are not the last person with allergies that she will deal with in her teaching career so it would be a good idea for her to become familiar with allergies. I would suggest you discuss this with the teacher, your college professor and the school principal. Your concerns are valid and you need a game plan. If this mentor is still behaving "freaked out" and unsupportive you should consider moving to another class/mentor. You font want your grades and evaluations negatively affected by this person's inability to cope with an allergy in a colleague. Good luck!