ALLERGIES AT SCHOOL
Sending a child with food allergies to school is no easy task. It’s difficult to hand over the reins to someone else. When a child has a nut allergy, dairy allergy, gluten intolerance, or any other allergy, there are so many potential scenarios for danger. It is a source of high anxiety for parents.
Food allergies are on the rise and we don’t know why. According to FARE, researchers estimate 15 million people in the U. S. have food allergies. Affecting 1 in every 13 children under 18 years of age, there is roughly 2 children in every classroom with food allergies.
At the preschool we selected, they had a prominent sign posted up on the fridge with the list of kids with food allergies and their allergic foods. I’ve found the key was open communication. Build a good rapport with his teachers and trust them. Work together for success. If the school provides food, check all their ingredients. Which ones are unsafe? Ask how they serve the snacks and meals. Does their process lead to cross contamination? What’s their policy on sharing food and how do they manage food allergies at birthday and holiday parties?
In elementary school, I kept a watchful eye on my kids until they were about 10 years old. I would volunteer to help at holiday party celebrations and chaperone field trips. At that point, I felt it was necessary for them to start self-advocating and watch out for food dangers themselves. Having a teacher that I trusted helped my kids to practice what they needed to learn and get ready for real life. Do what feels comfortable for you, there is no wrong or right answer.
Together with your school, creating a food allergy management plan called a 504 may be a good step. This would outline how the school’s staff would accommodate your child’s individual needs with his food allergy.
SETUP AT SCHOOL
First things first. Make sure your emergency medicines are in place.
- Get your school medical forms filled out.
- Get any extra forms for having medicines at school filled out AND signed by your doctor. Remember that getting a doctor’s signature takes time – prepare for that.
- Have a set of EpiPens ready for the school office.
- Get a new box of antihistamine for the school office.
- Have a Food Allergy Action Plan printed and ready for the school office.
- Assemble another emergency pack (EpiPens, antihistamine, Food Allergy Action Plan) for your classroom teacher.
- Get a doctor’s note to request the emergency pack be kept in the classroom in addition to the school office. (Some school’s will put up a fuss about keeping this in the classroom.)
- Talk to your new teacher and show her how to use the EpiPen.
JUST HOW MANY PARTIES ARE THERE?
As a parent of a child with food allergies, we must learn how to manage allergies at school parties whether we like it or not.
Is there really a way to keep our allergic kids happy and safe when food is everywhere? What happens if you’re caught by a surprise celebration? Well keep reading, I’ve got 5 suggestions below for you.
In preschool and elementary school, class parties are big events that children look forward to. These parties occur about 5-10 times during the school year and are typically planned by the room parents.
There’s always some event coming up, whether it’s a birthday celebration or the next holiday party. There seems to be at least one party a month! With never-ending parties for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, 100 days of school, LOTS of birthdays, multi-cultural days, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, and more that I can’t recall, we allergy parents can hardly keep up with all the potential food dangers.
And don’t forget about the pizza, popsicle, and ice cream parties for winning the Read-a-thon or Walkathon! The possibilities are endless. If you’d like to have more say in what happens at the parties, consider volunteering to be a room parent or help out in class.
FUN AND FOOD
Typically, there are two parts to the celebration: fun and food. Of course, the fun part is – well, fun. Crafts, games, and a general good time to be had for all. If we’re lucky, the school or the teacher has a policy of no food in celebrations. Then, yay! You’re all set! No nut allergies to worry about! No dairy allergies to worry about! No gluten allergies to worry about! Or any other allergy! You get the picture.
As much as we’d love for these parties to NOT include food, it is the norm to have an abundant amount of snacks. So you need to be prepared. There are usually two parts to the celebrations – the fun activity and the food. Yes, the food is what causes us allergy parents to worry! How can we keep our child safe? How do we make sure nobody feels left out?
5 TIPS for MANAGING ALLERGIES IN THE CLASSROOM
- Volunteer to be a room parent and be the party planner.
- Keep up a good rapport with the room parent so you can be in on the food planning.
- Volunteer to supply allergy safe food for the parties for the whole class.
- Volunteer to be a parent helper at the parties so you can be present to keep an eye on your child.
- Supply the teacher with alternative safe treats for your allergic child.
In an ideal world, everyone can eat everything served at the party. Make this happen by becoming friends with the room parents (if you’re not one) and start the open communication.
Instead of giving them a list of constraints on what foods your child CAN NOT eat, give them a detailed list of allergy safe snacks he CAN eat during the parties. Include all types of foods, such as fruit, veggies, snacks, savories, and treats.
Room parents and teachers can choose from your list when selecting snacks for the class and you are thus making their life easier. Even better, offer to bring the food and volunteer as a helping hand at the party. It’s a great way to join in on the fun and see your child in action.
ALLERGY SAFE SNACKS
Doing this will take some time and effort, but it will be well worth it. With your list of allergy safe snacks, you’ll rest easier and your allergic child will be enjoying those class parties with everyone else at school in no time!
ALTERNATIVE ALLERGY SAFE TREATS FOR SCHOOL PARTIES
Cupcake to the rescue! Sometimes, with advance warning, you can give your child a safe cupcake to bring to school when you know that there will be a birthday celebration. However, a lot of the times, these food celebrations sneak up on us and we’re not prepared.
THE ONE SIMPLE TRICK
Supplying the teacher with some shelf stable fun treats for your allergic child will keep him happy whenever the occasion arises. Keep a safe snack box in the classroom and stock it throughout the year. The teacher can be the gate keeper.
To keep it special and fun, try to give treats that are not commonly available at home. Then, your child will be excited to get that treat. Do make sure that she’s eaten it before with you and recognizes it as a safe treat.
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