Each new school year brings new circumstances for parents of students with food allergies. Here are some tips for parents in preparing their kids for a new year.
Once you have talked about your child’s needs with the school, be sure to talk with your child, so that he or she is prepared. Laura Bantock, RN, Food Allergy Canada Western Region Director notes, “This can help to empower them and reinforce learning. Go over specifics like hand washing, not sharing food or utensils and eating only approved food items.”
Bantock notes that role-playing is a great way to help kids get prepared for challenging situations, such as having to say “no” to a food offered by a classmate. You can also role-play what the child could say to an adult if they feel they may be having a reaction, and how to explain their allergy to other students.
Some schools are now asking children to carry their own epinephrine auto-injectors as young as 3.5 or 4 years of age. To prepare your child, start practicing at home. Bantock suggests, “Explain to your child that having medicine with them is important so that it can be given to them quickly.” If you haven’t had time to practice, talk with the school about easing the child into self-carrying in the classroom: starting with one hour, then two, then three hours until they are comfortable. If you have concerns about your child’s ability to self-carry, talk with the school or others who can help.
A key part of talking to tweens is listening. Ask your tween open-ended questions, such as what their hopes are for the school year, and whether they have concerns. If you suspect there may be situations that your child needs to talk about, such as peer pressure or bullying, bring them up in a non-confrontational and open-ended way. “It is easier to address these situations if you can intervene at an early stage,” notes Bantock.
As with any age, talk with your tween about the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Remind him or her that symptoms can be different each time, even for the same person. “Remember that some [kids] cannot recall a reaction they had when they were young,” says Bantock. Let them know that if they feel unwell, even if they’re not sure, to talk to an adult, right away.
Positive reinforcement goes a long way with tweens (even if they sometimes don’t seem to be listening – they are!). Talk about their previous years of school and the times that they made good decisions. Praise them for carrying their auto-injector, for communicating with their friends and teachers and for managing their allergies even when it wasn’t easy. Model a positive attitude about managing food allergies. Says Bantock, “You are their role model and they are looking at you to gauge how to create their own responses!”
Teens need to connect with their peer group, and Our WhyRiskIt.ca web page has been designed especially for teens with allergies, created by the team at our Youth Advocacy Program and medically reviewed by allergists. On WhyRiskIt.ca, teens write honestly and give great advice about managing food allergies in social situations, including school events and dating. (If you have a teen who would like to get involved with YAP, please contact our office for more information.)
Making time to talk, without judgment, will help your teen reach out when they need to talk about school situations. Let your teen know that you are comfortable with talking over their feelings, and that they can even discuss situations where allergy “rules” were broken, without getting in trouble. As with any age, the more you listen, the more you can learn and help your teen be safe and comfortable at school.
Remind your teen that all their friends need to know about their food allergies — and what to do if there’s an allergic reaction. Friends can be partners in preventing reactions at school, and should be able to recognize symptoms of a reaction and know what to do in an emergency. Most importantly, let your teen know how important it is to always carry their auto-injector at school (not leave it in their locker). Check in with your teen throughout the year, and let you know that you are proud of them for all they do to manage their allergies.
For more information about food allergies and school, check out the following links:
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