By Kristen Chandler
When my children were younger, I was THE person managing their food allergies. Well, of course I was, because I’m their mom. But before they started daycare, and school, I was used to managing it by myself. And it wasn’t easy; it still isn’t. But I didn’t have to worry about someone giving them the wrong thing, or not reading the labels carefully or anything like that. If I made a mistake, it was on me. I would have no one to blame but myself.
Then it reached the point where in order for me to work, the kids would have to go to daycare. I was still pretty much in control on this one. I sent my son’s lunch and snacks, with instructions not to feed him anything that I didn’t send. My two daughters’ allergies aren’t as severe as his, so I just made out a list of things that they couldn’t have.
The biggest challenge came when they started public school. I still held the majority of the control over managing their food allergies, but I had to give up a little bit of my control. In addition to school, there were extracurricular activities. Now, you would think there wouldn’t be much concern for food allergies where sports are concerned, but there is. Someone always brings snacks. And then there are the end-of-season parties. Do you know what goes with parties? Cake. CAKE IS EVERYWHERE.
Food Allergy Awareness for Teachers
I wish I could tell you that, from the beginning, since my son started kindergarten, I have walked into the classroom or confronted coaches or camp counselors confidently and with a plan. Now I do. I haven’t always though. This has been a learning process for me, but I’ve gotten better each year. You learn what does work and what doesn’t, and it prepares you for the next time. I’m going to share a few tips that work for me, and hopefully they will help you too!
Make a List.
Actually, make two. One list of who you need to meet with before school starts, and another of what exactly you will need for school. I have to leave Benadryl and Epi with the school nurse, so I make sure a couple of weeks before school starts that I have those prescriptions filled, and the doctor forms filled out. If you use a 504 plan for your child, you need to make sure you have that updated with any changes before school starts. As far as who to talk to, if your child is starting a new school or starting school for the first time, you will need to talk to your child’s teacher or teachers, the school nurses, and any administrators who will be in charge of your child’s care. If your child is a returning student, you will only need to check in with the nurses to update/change forms and medications and meet with their new teachers.
Meet the Teachers.
I live in a small town, so I’m not sure how it works in bigger cities, but here, it doesn’t matter if your child is going into kindergarten or sixth grade—we meet the teacher before school starts. As a food allergy parent, you always want to meet the teacher. I pretty much lead with “Hi, my name is Kristen Chandler, I’m H’s mom, and he has food allergies.” I then tell them what all he is allergic to. Then they usually have questions. Will he be eating in the lunchroom? No, I send his lunch. Does he require Epi and will he carry it? If they want to give out treats, what can he have?
It’s good to have a list of safe treats your child can have to give to them. Write them out on an index card, if you wish. Or you may wish to just send extra snacks yourself for the teacher to keep in the classroom. I’ve done that several times, because with cross contamination being such a risk, a lot of safe foods are brand-specific, and I’d prefer to provide them myself. The school and teachers should have your contact information in case of an emergency, but I always give the teachers my cell phone number and tell them to call me or text me any time they have a question. People will bring surprise snacks, unless your child’s classroom has a no outside treats policy. One of my son’s teachers would take pictures of the food label and text them to me. I loved that.
Be the room mom, if you can. If you can’t, find out who the room mom is, and give her a heads up about your child’s food allergies. Furthermore, talk to as many parents in the classroom as you can. Most of them may just shrug it off, but some will surprise you. In the past couple of years, I’ve had parents text me when it gets close to a party, wanting to know how they can accommodate to my kid’s food allergies. Everyone isn’t going to be like that, but the more you spread the word, the more people start paying attention.
Food Allergy Awareness for Coaches and Camp Counselors
As far as extracurricular activities and camps are concerned, depending on the type of activities and type of camp, there may not be as much exposure to food as there would be in a school day. But you still need to make anyone who will be coming in contact with your child aware of his or her allergies. And if it’s a day camp, there may not be a nurse, so whoever is in charge of your child would be the one who would be treating them if they had a reaction.
Before camp or the sports season starts, meet with whoever is in charge and whoever will be taking care of your children. Have resources on hand to give them.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Information card. You can print these online or you can write one up on an index card. List allergy information, your contact information and emergency contact information. You can still verbally tell them all of your child’s allergy information, but having this card on hand gives them easy reference. (These are really great for bible school programs at churches).
- A handout on how to use auto-injectors. Few people know how. Really, unless they are a teacher or a nurse, most people have no clue how to use them.
- Medicine and safe snacks. Of course you want to leave these if they are going to be needed. If you are going to be close at hand, it may not be necessary.
It’s scary leaving our allergic kids in someone else’s care, and I know it helps me to feel more in control when I’m prepared. I hope these tips help you as well!