Managing Food Allergies At School
I had a panic moment the other day. On the way home in the car, my 5-year-old said ” I had porridge today at school”. It seems a fairly simple ordinary statement. But immediately I was on high alert. I responded calmly by inquiring if he made the porridge at school. He then uttered the magic words which immediately put my mind at rest. “I had water in mine because I can’t have milk.”
It was probably the first time in his life that my child was in an unforeseen situation like this (where I wasn’t with him or had advised beforehand) and it was such a relief that he was able to communicate and deal with the situation himself. It is a difficult one, your child is becoming more independent by the day once they start attending school. How can you manage the transition when they will inevitably be put in situations where you are not able to ensure that they make the right food decisions to keep themselves safe from their allergies or intolerences.
Ways you can help them stay safe:
1) Talk to your child in an age-appropriate way, explain that having the allergen will make them sick (or rash/tummy/ have to go to hospital) and what they need to avoid. It is particularly important to explain to them not to share food. Only explain as much as they can understand at their age level and don’t scare them. They might surprise you with how well they can help deal with it. Good hand-washing practice and not sharing foods are key elements which you will need to have ingrained in your child before school starts!
2) If your child carries an epi-pen you will need to meet with the teacher and principal before school starts. Ask if they have had epi-pen training, if not you will need to advise them that this is necessary before your child starts school there, you can put them in touch with Anaphylaxis Ireland who will help with this. There is a resource pack for schools for managing chronic illnesses available on their website which will guide the school in the right direction if they haven’t dealt with his before.
3) Have frequent chats with your child’s teacher. Although you will have put details on the enrolment form, act as if that form might not have been seen by teachers and mention it to each teacher as your child moves from class to class. If your child has a serious allergy then this is even more important. It is worth mentioning it again before a cake sale if you want to provide your own free from baked goods and then liaise with the teacher to make sure your child only buys and eats the safe ones you make. It is a good idea to speak with the child’s teacher again prior to a school tour as quite often situations may arise on days like these. Teacher may need to be reminded to carry epi-pen, inhalers etc. if they are going on an excursion. I know my son went on a school tour in crèche and the tour venue gave every child an ice-cream cone at the end of the tour. I spoke with the crèche in advance and they provided a fruit ice-pop instead for my child. They would have had one super sad child on their hands if I hadn’t known in advance and spoke with them. Remember teacher is dealing with up to 30 other children too so although you have stressed the importance already it is no harm to remind on special days like these. Better safe than sorry.
4) It would help to have a list of allergens for your child on a laminated sheet which you can then give to the child’s teacher. I know from my work in a school that teachers are extremely busy and they would appreciate a handy quick reference if they need it. The same goes for a medication guide if they have an epi-pen or other medication.
5) An armband is a wonderful visual reminder that your child suffers from allergies. Of course you will have to make clear to your child how important it is that they keep it on them. There are many places to get these now and they are available for a wide range of allergens. You can get them from chemists and online from Allergy Lifestyle. You can also now buy allergy temporary tattoos and lunch boxes with your child’s allergen information on them.
6) If the child’s class bakes or cooks then offer to send in your free from ingredients or give them a list of handy allergen free substitutes for common ingredients.
7) A plan may need to be devised with the school to educate the other children on the importance of hand-washing and not sharing food.
Communication is the key, and it is worth the risk of feeling like you are harping on to explain it each time you feel it needs to be explained. Your child’s health comes first and it is important that people in charge of your child are 100% clear on what they need to know.