Sending a child off to preschool or day care for the first time is hard, but when she has a food allergy it can be downright scary. How can you know that your child will be safe? Schools and care centers need to ensure that all possible precautions are taken, but as a parent it’s up to you to make sure. In fact, you can even suggest to your child’s caregivers or school administrators the strategies and precautions that are important and that will make managing your child’s allergies easier.
Educate Teachers and Other Caregivers
When it’s time to send your child off to preschool or daycare, don’t hesitate to get involved. The first, important step in knowing that your child will be protected is to make sure that her caregivers are knowledgeable about food allergies in general, and about your child’s needs in particular. All adults who will be involved with your child should know the following:
- Your child’s food allergens
- A list of foods she cannot eat
- Symptoms of an allergic reaction
- How to use an epinephrine injector
- Where the injector and any other medicines are stored
- What to do in the case of an allergic reaction
Educate the Children Too
Another great strategy for protecting your child, and others, in the classroom is to include lessons about food allergies. It’s not just the adults who need to be aware of the danger of certain foods for your child. If your child’s teacher doesn’t have any lessons regarding food allergies, step in and offer suggestions. You can find prepared lessons online, or you can just let the teacher know what the other children should learn about food allergies. There are also plenty of great children’s books about food allergies that you can give to the classroom.
Help the School Develop a Food Allergy Policy
A written food allergy policy is a great way to ensure that all people responsible for your child understand the role they play in protecting her. The policy should be developed between parents, teachers, administrators and a doctor or nurse and should include detailed procedures for what to do if your child is exposed to an allergen or experiences a reaction at school, or in other words an emergency procedure. It should also clarify who has which responsibilities, such as providing allergen-free food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that the leader of this process should be a health care professional, such as a school doctor or nurse, or the child’s personal pediatrician or allergist.
Plan Ahead for Meals, Snacks and Parties
Food is an important part of the early childhood education experience. If you have taken all of the above steps, you should be able to plan with your child’s caregivers to ensure that snack and meal times are safe for your child. With the information and procedures in place, your child’s teacher will know what your child can and cannot eat and if there are certain foods that should not be in the classroom at all.
As a parent, you can take important steps to make sure that snack time and class parties are both safe and fun for your child. For instance, your child’s teacher should inform you in advance when there will be a party or some other classroom activity that is different from the usual meal or snack time. You can then plan ahead and provide your child with an alternative or safe food for a party.
Ultimately, the most important way in which you can manage food allergies for your child in her school settings is to work as part of a team with her caregivers, teachers and other adults involved in her care. When you all work together and communicate clearly, you can avoid the kinds of mistakes that may make your child sick or even threaten her life. Your child can enjoy school and you can feel comfortable knowing she is safe if you take all the right steps.