Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Coping with Sending Kids with Food Allergies Back to School: Who Needs a Pep Talk?

Let me start by saying that I think school is a wonderful thing and we've had some excellent experiences at school. School has been a positive experience for us in so many ways. For those of you getting ready to send your kids with severe allergies off to school for the first time, of course you must prepare the school, yourself and your child, but the rewards can be great.

Still, I remember so clearly that anxious feeling I had when sending my child to school for the first time. Kindergarten felt very challenging, maybe because preschool was when we discovered my daughter's allergies following an anaphylactic reaction. I was still learning about allergies when I sent my child off to school, just like many of you.

I feel like all of us need a pep talk right now, even those of us who have been sending kids with food allergies to school for years. Heck, I'd like a pep talk myself. With 8th grade approaching, my family will be dealing with new challenges and new adjustments that come with increasing independence. So even now, I can relate to those of you sending kids to school for the first time. For more about taking that leap of faith at the start of the school year, check out this article. It seemed to strike a chord with many readers.

Here's one positive thing I've observed: Food allergy awareness is at an all-time high in schools. When we began school nine years ago, it was not very well understood and I had to break a lot of new ground when my daughter first became a student. Now, most schools have had allergic students and have created some type of policy. You may need to work with your school to tweak the policy to your satisfaction, but it's highly unlikely that your school has never dealt with allergic students before. Your school district may even have a concrete policy on dealing with food allergy management. If you're not sure, ask them.

These days, kids in your child's classroom will be used to others having food allergies and dietary restrictions. This is positive if you are just sending a child to school. I've found that kids can be excellent advocates for their friends with allergies. This generation will hopefully be more tolerant and accepting.

Additionally, most parents are used to hearing about food restrictions. Do some of them grumble? Are some of them occasionally upset that they can't send peanut butter treats or what have you to a class party? Sure. It does happen but most of the time it's because parents don't understand why or if they do, they are busy and just don't want to be bothered. If you keep your cool and offer to be a resource, that is a big help. Your formal health plan at school can also reflect what is allowed in the classroom, so see this link for details on working with your school.

And here's one thing to keep in mind, a big thing. We may be adept at food allergy management and have it foremost in our minds, but that doesn't mean that other people do. It's probably not going to take one conversation or meeting to achieve perfect understanding between you and the school. If you know that going in and have prepared yourself with a school calendar so that you can check in periodically (especially around party or special event time), you will not feel as blindsided when somebody forgets something or there is a mishap regarding what is allowed in the classroom. Use it as a learning experience and always, always communicate.

Trust your gut. If something is not right, talk to your school about what you can do to make it better. Don't suffer in silence or have your child suffer. It's not worth it and may even endanger their health.

Finally, engage your child in food allergy management. Even little kids can learn to say no politely to an unknown food or food not approved by you. Make sure it's you who approves the food and no one else (remember, others don't have it foremost on their minds like you do). Help your child learn what foods may be risky (desserts, candy, certain snacks, bakery goods, some restaurant foods, etc.) and teach them to say "no, thank you." It will help their confidence and yours if they know what to avoid. For an article on teaching kids to manage nut allergies, click here.

As the school year nears, we will have stress. Take time for yourself and if you've completed all your allergy-related tasks, then know you are doing what you can. Try to relax so that you don't transmit anxiety to your child. Click this link for a parent's/caregiver's guide to managing nut allergies.

Please share with us any tips you have for managing food allergies at school by leaving a comment.  I wish all of us a safe and happy school year!

Note: for medical questions, please ask your doctor. For questions regarding your specific school, please contact them directly.


Jamie R. said...

Thank you so much for your encouraging words! This blog has been a lifesaver for me! :) Even though our school has a "No NUTS" policy for all food coming into the classrooms, (yeah!), I still provide a good supply of safe snacks for birthdays, class parties, etc., to keep in my daughter's classroom at all times. She goes with me to pick out what she wants, we check the label, and make sure we are familiar with the company producing it. It gives all of us peace of mind!

Jenny said...

Thanks, Jamie for your comment! I'm so happy to hear that my blog has helped you. All the best for a wonderful and safe school year!