By Kristen Chandler
Teachers and students are celebrating; parents, maybe not so much. It’s summertime! If you are a working parent, then you have had to line up child care for the summer. And whether you work outside the home, work at home or are a stay-at-home parent, you still will have vacations and take the children to various activities, because you can’t keep them cooped up at home all summer, right? Planning all of this is enough work by itself, but then throw food allergies in the mix and it becomes extra challenging. There are extra precautions to take and there’s extra planning involved.
A couple of weeks ago we published an article titled Food Allergy Awareness for Teachers, Coaches and Camp Counselors. Along with those tips, I am going to share with you a few things I have learned over our food allergy journey, and also a few products that I have found helpful.
Part One – Child Care
Whether your children are attending a day care, day camp, or vacation bible school, or you have an in home babysitter, your children’s food allergies should be one of the first things addressed. Even if the babysitter is someone who has kept your child before, or your child is going to a camp he or she has attended before, there could still be new staff. Also, people need to be reminded, especially if they do not handle food allergies on a daily basis. The first day of attending camp or daycare, or the first day a sitter comes, is probably not the best time to do this.
I have not only been on the parent side of this, but have worked at both a summer camp and daycare, so I know first days are crazy and chaotic. Try to set up a time before the first day to meet with your sitter or at least the director of the daycare/camp to go over the most important details. Then on the first day, you can just do a quick recap.
- First aid/ medical training
Some camps may have a staff nurse. Most will not. However, if it is a daycare or YMCA or school-based day camp, chances are the staff has had first aid and CPR training at least. However, they still may not be trained and/or experienced in handling auto injectors. When you meet with them, in addition to taking auto injectors to leave with them, take the trainer pen (which should come with all auto-injectors; I use Epi-pens and they come with a trainer). Demonstrate how to use it, and get them to practice and show you how they would respond. I felt a little silly explaining this the first time to someone, and asking them to demonstrate on me and “jab me in the leg with it.” But I quickly got over my fear of feeling silly, knowing that I was leaving my child’s life in this person’s hands, and if my child had an anaphylactic reaction, I definitely want them to be prepared to handle it.
If you need a sitter, I would recommend getting someone who has first aid/CPR training. I live in a small rural area, so we know almost everyone. I usually try to get someone who has kept my kids before or who has been in close contact with our family and is familiar with my children’s food allergies. If I am getting someone new, I try to get someone who has kept children before, preferably in a school, daycare or camp setting, as they are more prepared to deal with a medical emergency.
Just like with school, if you are going to be leaving your children somewhere outside of the home, you are going to need to leave their medications there as well. Make sure you are stocked up on everything and that nothing is expiring soon (especially those auto-injectors and asthma inhalers). Here’s a cool idea I learned from our nurses at school: they keep individual students’ medications in a pencil box with their names on it. It makes it easy to grab and go for field trips. This is also ideal when you have more than one medication to leave somewhere. Your child may carry their auto-injectors with them in a case, and that’s fine. It still wouldn’t hurt to leave extra injectors, if you have them, with the person in charge.
This is also a key time to remember storage instructions for auto-injectors, and to go over them with whomever you leave them with.
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR AUTO-INJECTORS SOMEWHERE THAT THEY CAN GET TOO HOT! Do not leave them out in your vehicles. I know you need to try to keep them on hand or close by at all times, and with it being summer, people tend to be outdoors a lot. In turn, this makes it difficult to keep them at the recommended 68-77 degree Fahrenheit (20-25 degree Celsius) temperature. If you or your child are going to be outdoors for extended periods of time, it is actually better to keep the injectors with you and try to keep them in a cooler, shaded area, as opposed to leaving them in a car where temperatures will rise to even higher than they are outside. If you are going to be close enough to somewhere indoors that you could get to them immediately, and they can be kept at the suggested temperature, that is ideal.
- Information Cards
In the article, Food Allergy Awareness for Teachers, Coaches and Camp Counselors, we mention having information cards with all allergy, medication and contact information listed on them. These are perfect to have, even for a sitter that you have in your home. You can put it on the refrigerator. It is a great reminder and reference.
- Allergy Reminder Wearables
These resources were not as available, at least I was not aware of them, when my oldest was first diagnosed with food allergies. We have recently begun to discover them, and I think they are a fabulous reminder. I mean, what better way to remind someone you have food allergies than to be wearing something that brings attention to it? Of course, there are medical I.D. bracelets, but there are SO many options in addition to those now. Some of my favorites are the tattoos and bracelets from Allerware. What kid doesn’t like tattoos? I know all three of mine do. These are great for camps, and events that last several days because they last for several days. They have tattoos for the top allergens, but they also do custom orders. The bracelets are lightweight, and have allergen information as well as a place to write contact information. It also instructs an adult to administer epinephrine and call 911 in an emergency.
Another favorite of mine are buttons from Food Allergies and Me. They can be worn by your child, or placed on their lunch bag or backpack to remind those handling food, or other children intent on sharing food, that they have allergies.
These are just a few things that I have found helpful in preparing for summer camps or child care over the summer. If you have anything to add to this list, we would love to hear from you in the comments!