Allergy Kids Foundation recently posted an article about managing food allergies when your child starts school – I think this list is a good starting point for thinking about what we should do this fall, but I think taking things a bit further will help a little more. We all want a safe environment for our kids so they can relax about the food allergies and make way for learning. This is a list specifically geared for the younger set, but feel free to comment with other ideas for any age.
- Meet the class – Hopefully your child’s teacher will be open to this. Offer to explain your child’s food allergies to the class. Introduce yourself, your child, explain what he/she is allergic to, what might happen if he gets sick, and how they can help keep your child safe. I’ve found many adults who do not know what dairy products are. Keep it short, perhaps offer a snack or read a picture book about food allergies (if appropriate). Make sure you leave time to answer questions. Invite other parents to sit in.
- Introduce yourself to parents – If your class has an email list, introduce yourself – let them know about your child and their allergies. Offer to answer any questions they may have, let them know that your child can still participate in parties and other food related activities. Let them know how they can help while they are volunteering in the classroom, on field trips, recess, lunch, etc… Make it short and friendly. Many people still do not understand allergies and sadly, feel your child is an inconvenience to them.
- Medic alert bracelet – Make sure your child is wearing a medic alert bracelet of some kind. There are some great ones out there these days for boys and girls (we’ll post our favorites soon).
- Volunteer in the classroom – If you can manage to work in the time, this will help get to know the teacher, the children and the other parents, see how the classroom works, and what kind of activities they will be working on day to day. It will also give you the chance to see what potential hazards there are in the classroom like soaps, lotions, and materials that could be harmful to your child.
- Join the party planning committee – Classrooms usually have a committee or room mothers who are in charge of planning the parties for the classroom. Either get to know these people or offer to be on the committee yourself. You then can be a part of planning the activities and food that may be served at these gatherings.
- Offer to bring the snack – When there is going to be a special party or outing that will require a snack for the whole class, offer to bring the snack or a snack that everyone can share. This can be tricky because a lot of moms want to be the person who brings the food – and they get really defensive about it. By offering to bring a separate snack for everyone, perhaps this will help. If not, always be prepared to send your child along with their own snack anyway.
- Meet other allergy moms – Find out if any other children in the class, grade or school are suffering from allergies. Get to know them, share concerns, ideas, recipes and get some support. Don’t do this alone.
- Encourage non-food prizes – This is a tough one. Talk to the teacher about ways in which the children can be rewarded in a non-food way… Books, toys, gift certificates, special guests. I brought in pencils and little prizes that the teacher could use instead of food and donated to her prized fund so she would be prepared for that. In general, food allergy or not, I don’t think its a good idea to give kids candy and junk food as a prize anyway.
- Volunteer for the field trip – This is a big one. When the children are out of their regular routine, accidents can happen. You will need to carry along the EpiPen or make sure the teacher will have it along. Watch what activities your child will be participating in and help navigate lunch and snack time. My daughter’s class took a field trip to a farm, the children were given nuts to eat and break open, collected nuts, fed chickens with milk feed and nuts, touched and tasted everything in sight.
- Take care with lunch and snack – Take the time, care and effort to provide the most healthy, beautiful, tasty snack and lunch for your child that you possibly can. Choose foods that you know they love and are safe. Mix up the lunchbox and the containers. Add notes and treats for your child. Don’t serve the same thing twice in a row. Keep them excited about what will be in their lunch by mixing it up. Make something they will be proud of.
I know, its a lot of work, but all these little things will go a long way to providing a safe environment for your child and putting your mind somewhat at ease. Having both parents and perhaps grandparents or other close friends and relatives take part in this will help a lot. My daughter has food allergies, but it’s not who she is – she is funny, creative, optimistic, smart, friendly, loves animals, has a contagious laugh, loves to learn, has a beautiful tennis forehand, plays the piano and loves to dance. Let’s hope it’s a safe and happy year ahead for our little ones.
Until next time, Lisa