It’s never too early to start planning for a child’s first experience with school. He will be facing a new and exciting change in his routine, new social opportunities, new learning experiences and so much more. The transition will be especially significant if he lives with food allergies.
All children should be well prepared to start school, but for the food allergic child there are special needs that others are not necessarily facing. If you have a child with food allergies, you may not yet have thought of all these unique needs. Now is the time to prepare for them.
- Awareness of food. Most kids are blissfully unaware of the risks and benefits of what they eat. They simply eat what is put in front of them or what they like if they are pickier. Your child needs awareness. He may be young, but you can start now by helping him learn what he can and cannot eat and to always think about what he is eating and what he should not. Teachers and other staff at school will do their best to protect him, but he needs to be empowered to take responsibility for his own food safety in a way that other kids do not.
- The ability to speak up. Your child not only must be aware of his unique food needs, he has to be able to speak up and advocate for himself. This isn’t always easy for kids. Encourage your child to talk to the teacher or another school staff member if someone is bullying him, if he isn’t sure he can eat a certain food or if he feels like he is having an allergic reaction.
- Epinephrine injectors. Between 16 and 18 percent of children have had an allergic reaction while at school. If your child is susceptible to the most severe type of reaction, anaphylaxis, he will need to have epinephrine injectors on hand in school. He should have one with him at all times, but the school should also have them and several adults in the school should be trained in how to use one.
- Allergy management plans. Many children require special educational plans because of their unique needs. For your child, that plan should be for the management of his allergies. Let your pediatrician or allergist help you develop a management plan and then meet with your school administrators, your child’s teacher and the school nurse to go over the plan and make sure everyone has a copy.
- Safe snacks. Your child will need to have safe foods stashed at school for snack time and parties. Food is an important part of the school experience, and to be sure your child will be able to enjoy that experience while still being safe, he will need a well-stocked supply of foods that he can eat without scrutinizing them or being unsure whether they will be safe to eat.
- Special party and field trip planning. Food is important in school, and it is often a big part of other important school events like parties and field trips. You want your child to enjoy these along with the other kids but still be safe. That requires extra planning. Unlike other parents, you will need to plan ahead for what your child will eat during these school events. You may even want to be there to help out and ensure your child stays safe.
A child with food allergies has unique needs in all areas of life. School will be a big part of your child’s life, and because of his allergies, he faces needs that other children may not. If you are more aware of these needs and you address them with the school, you can be sure that your child will both enjoy the new experience and be safe.