If you have a child with a food allergy, you know that sending her to school requires you to rely on the vigilance and competence of school personnel -- mainly your child's teachers, teachers' aides and cafeteria workers -- to keep your child safe. Unfortunately, those without much food allergy experience may not understand the dangers. However, if you organize a plan and educate everyone involved, you can increase your child's safety and give yourself some peace of mind.
Educate your child about his food allergy, so that he understands it's important to take responsibility for what he chooses to eat. Tell your child to always ask an adult if he has any questions about food or how to keep himself safe. Don't hesitate to teach your preschooler with a peanut allergy to chant a simple phrase like "no peanuts!" at snack times, mealtimes or during classroom parties to alert the adults.
Prepare a "food allergy action plan" with the guidance of your child's allergist or pediatrician, recommends Maria Laura Acebal, founder and director of Safe@School Partners, a nonprofit that trains schools and camps on food allergy safety. According to KidsWithFoodAllergies.org, the plan should include the foods your child is allergic to; how to identify symptoms of an allergic reaction; the immediate and secondary treatment and the circumstances of each; contact information for the emergency medical service, your child's doctor and you; a current photo of your child; and your doctor's signature and date.
Meet with the school administrator, teacher, teacher's aide and cafeteria workers before your child's first day of school. Explain the seriousness of your child's food allergy -- symptoms that can arise and proper treatment -- and give each person a copy of the action plan. Go over the details, so that everyone understands what to do. Ask each person to put the plan in a readily accessible location in case the need for it arises.
Give the school as many auto-epinephrine injectors as needed. The response time is critical in some cases. For example, if your child has an allergic reaction in the cafeteria and the injector is across campus in the school office, it could take too long to retrieve it, placing your child's life at risk.
Ask the school administrator to send a note to the parents of each of your child's classmates about her food allergy. Offer to draft the note. It should include information about her specific allergy and what triggers it -- for example, being in the same room with the food, touching it or ingesting it. Also, mention the risks to your child. Respectfully request that parents refrain from sending products to school with their child that may trigger your child's allergy, if applicable. For instance, a child allergic to peanuts, but only if he ingests them, would not be affected by another child who brings peanut products in her own lunch. If your child could suffer an allergic reaction by simply being near the trigger food, you may want to consider asking the parents to avoid packing that food in their children's lunches or snacks.
- Engravable medical alert bracelets are available for children with food allergies.
- Be sensitive to the possibility that food allergies could make your child feel singled out or self-conscious.
- Educate your child on the types of foods that contain the allergen. As your child ages, she should become increasingly more responsible for her own well-being, which includes making well-informed food choices.
- In a large school, it may be helpful to have your child's photo (with allergy noted) posted in the cafeteria's kitchen to make food workers aware.
- Never take for granted that adults understand the seriousness of food allergies.
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