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Back to school with food allergies: Ages and stages

Back-to-school is usually an exciting time, but for children and teens with food allergies, and especially for their parents, anxiety can accompany those good feelings. With over 485,000 Canadian kids under 18 with food allergies, you can be somewhat comforted by the knowledge that in most Canadian schools and daycares in 2017, your child is very unlikely to be the only one with food allergies in their peer group.

There are also policies for handling food allergies in daycares and schools. However, only Ontario, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and British Columbia make these mandatory, and only Ontario and B.C. have passed them into law. Read the laws, guidelines, or policies in your province or territory.

Although the list below isn’t comprehensive, we hope that you find these tips useful as you prepare to send your little one (or not so little one) off to begin his or her new school year.

Daycare/Preschool

  • Declare your child’s allergy, complete an Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan, and fill out any necessary paperwork permitting the daycare or preschool to administer epinephrine if necessary.
  • Provide a prescription epinephrine auto-injector to the main office, and make sure that all daycare staff are trained in how to administer it properly.
  • Ask if the daycare has a written allergy policy and/or a set of emergency procedures, and whether their staff members are all trained in allergy risk-reduction and emergency first-response.
  • Inquire as to whether the daycare serves (or allows other parents to send) any of the foods your child is allergic to. If so, what precautions do they have in place to prevent food sharing and cross-contamination?
  • Ask them how handwashing before and after meals is handled?
  • Because infants and toddlers instinctively put things in their mouths, are there non-food items on-site (play clay, papier maché ingredients, etc.) which could trigger a reaction?
  • Some daycares are well-prepared, while others could use some additional training. When in doubt when choosing a daycare, rely on your best judgment.

Educational resource

Let the facility know about the free AllergyAware.ca 30-minute course, Anaphylaxis in Child Care Settings. It’s medically reviewed, interactive, and mobile-friendly. They can also print out a personalized certificate of completion.

Elementary school

  • Kindergarten is much like daycare or preschool, and can be approached in a similar way.
  • Again, declare your child’s allergy, complete an Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan, and fill out any necessary paperwork permitting the school to administer epinephrine as necessary.
  • Make sure your child’s school has a written allergy policy and/or a set of emergency procedures, and that their teachers know how to implement it.
  • Ensure that your child carries their epinephrine auto-injector with them, and knows how to use it.
  • Provide a second epinephrine auto-injector to the school office.
  • Ask your allergist when to switch your child from an EpiPen® Jr. to a regular EpiPen®. (This is currently the only auto-injector available in Canada.) This depends on your child’s body weight, so different kids will switch over at different times.
  • Teach your child to manage their allergy confidently, without fear. Focus on your confidence in them rather than scary stories about dire consequences.

Educational resource

  • Consider signing your child up to our Allergy Pals program for children between the ages of 7 and 11. This peer mentorship program provides a way for your child to connect with other children with food allergies, learn strategies for managing food allergies, and feel more confident doing so. There are also monthly webinars available on the last Sunday of each month that are focused on one topic, like managing allergies at birthday parties, back to school, halloween, etc.
  • Let your child’s teachers and school administrators know about our Allergy Awareness Challenge for elementary schools. This program offers a suite of resources that help teachers educate their students about severe allergies throughout elementary school, helping them to more fully understand the nature (and seriousness) of food allergies.
  • You can also recommend the school staff take the free AllergyAware.ca 30-minute course, Anaphylaxis in Schools. It’s medically reviewed, interactive, and mobile-friendly. They can also print out a personalized certificate of completion.

Middle school and high school

  • The tween and early teen years are an ideal time to gradually step back and allow your child to manage their allergies on their own. However, they’re also prime time for risk-taking and increased concern about what peers think.
  • Teens are more likely than younger children to leave home without their epinephrine auto-injector. This is something to watch for and raise as a topic of discussion with your child if needed.
  • Talk to your tween or teen, about self-care and how not to be self-conscious about raising the topic of their allergies when food is being prepared or served.
  • Remind your tween or teen that they should never feel obliged to eat something potentially dangerous only out of embarrassment or peer-pressure.

Educational resources

  • Send your tween or teen the link to our Allergy Allies peer mentorship program for youth aged 12 and 15. Like its counterpart for younger kids, this program offers a social connection and coping strategies your child can use right away.
  • Tell your teenager about our Youth Advisory Panel (YAP), a way for teens and young adults aged 13-24 to share their experiences about managing their allergies, learn together, and create resources for their peers to learn from too.
  • Be sure to share the Allergy Awareness Challenge for high schools with your child. Like its counterpart for elementary and middle schools, this free, downloadable program educates students about life threatening allergies in a fun way, teaching students about things they can do to keep their high school safe for everyone.
  • Pick up a copy of our ebook, The Ultimate Guidebook for Teens with Food Allergies, written by members of our Youth Advisory Panel, for teens, by teens!
  • Visit the WhyRiskIt web site, and invite your tween or teen to do the same. There are many online resources available there intended to help teens and young adults manage the risks of food allergies in challenging situations, such as dining out or dating, and to help them develop allergy management strategies to reduce that risk.

College and University

Young adulthood and the transition to post-secondary programs can be a challenging time for parents. Parents of young adults strive to create a delicate balance between encouraging their children to move forward, independently into their adult lives, but at the same time, want to do all they can to keep their kids safe.

At this stage, gentle reminders and ongoing education are key. Here are a few suggestions that may be useful to parents during this transition:

  • Help your child be mindful of the importance of bringing their epinephrine auto-injector with them every time they leave the house.
  • Encourage your child to consider being part of our Youth Advisory Panel (YAP), if they’re not already signed up. They can stay in the loop about food allergy management, have access to a social network that can offer support, and also help their peers and younger students.
  • Most importantly, take a deep breath. You’ve come this far, and though the job of parenting is never truly done, know that by simply reading these tips and communicating them to your child, you’re helping to keep them safer.

Educational resource

  • Watch our webinar on how youth can navigate post-secondary school, and live safely on campus with food allergies. The webinar is hosted by a panel of youth with food allergies who are currently attending post-secondary school. They share their experiences, insight, and provide strategies on how youth can identify food allergy risks on campus and how to prepare accordingly. To read additional tips, check out these articles on managing food allergy in post-secondary schools from our Adults with Allergies blog.

And remember, no matter what stage your child is at, with planning in place, parents and kids alike have every reason to be excited about the new school year ahead.

Visit foodallergycanada.ca/school for more resources.