It's That Time of Year, Again.
For many children the start of a new school year is a highly anticipated event, reconnecting with old friends and swapping stories, new friends, new teachers, and possibly even entirely new schools. As a child, by the time summer was over I had worn summer out and was headed quickly towards boredom. Growing up where I did, I could only take so much swimming, biking, camping out and playing in the creek with my brothers. While I was fortunate and never had to concern myself with what I ate and food allergies, many of my classmates were not so lucky.
Summer is quickly drawing to a close, and while most parents are consumed with purchasing new school clothes and supplies for their children, a certain group of parents has another yearly rite to perform – preparing their children and their school staff to handle a child with food allergies. Food allergies are without a doubt on the rise, and each year at this time parents should again familiarize themselves with their children's school procedures and staff. For many this will involve a new school or new staff, but for all education and prevention are the keys to ensuring a safe and trouble free school year.
As a parent there are many steps you can take to ensure your child's safety, yet ultimately your child is his/her own best advocate. In addition to a backpack loaded with books and homework, this can be an enormous responsibility being placed upon them, but with proper education and understanding, they can give their parents peace of mind for the eight hours each day when they are at school. Though, handling that backpack is another matter entirely. Tools such as proper medication and auto injectors (for the most severe cases) as well as knowledge of allergic triggers and treatment can be your child's best friends.
It is important for parents to remember that they are not alone. Teachers, administrators and staff are also concerned with your child's well being, and a safe and trouble free learning environment is a basic goal shared by all. Before the school year begins there are several things parents can do to strengthen this partnership to ensure a safe school year. Because some teachers do occasionally bring in treats for their students and the school nurse would deal with any
medical emergencies, meeting with your child's teacher and the school nurse is an excellent first step. Both should be aware of your child's allergies and how to deal with possible allergic reactions. Working together you can develop an In Case of Emergency (ICE) plan. Speaking with the school's cafeteria staff is another possibility if the child is not bringing a lunch each day. If parents need additional materials to assist them and the school staff with allergy management, there is a plethora of information available from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network or American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
In more severe cases it is prudent for parents to simply prepare a bag lunch for their child each day. While sharing is a behavior that we often try to encourage in our children, in this circumstance it is important to stress to your child not to share or trade lunches. The approach taken by each parent should be tailored to the child's allergies as well as the severity of their reactions, and it is important to remember that there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to food allergies.
Now that the basic prevention and education is in hand, it is time to remember that this is not all doom and gloom. School can be a fun and exciting prospect for children and parents alike, and a small amount of prevention up front can ensure this. With peace of mind about your child's food allergies you will soon be swimming in a sea of report cards, finger paintings and long division.