Q: [All Ages] My young child is starting school and has food allergies. How do I make sure he stays safe and healthy while at school?
A: Having an action plan in place, and discussing it with your child, his teacher and school staff before school begins, is key.
Develop a written plan to share with your child’s teacher, nurse and any other adults who regularly care for your child. Consult your pediatrician and/or allergist for help in developing the plan. Include information on your child’s allergen(s), and on how to prevent accidental exposure.
Above all, explain how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction. If your child has epinephrine auto-injectors for emergencies, discuss how your child will receive an injection if he needs it, and where the auto-injectors will be kept at school. Make sure all adults, including substitutes, can understand the instructions for using the auto-injectors.
Also, talk in detail about how to prevent accidental exposure. One way is to ask that only safe snacks and supplies, which don’t contain the allergen, be used in your child’s classroom. That way, your child won’t be left out of any activity.
Consider asking your teacher to send a pre-approved letter home to other parents, with information on your child’s allergies.
Let the staff know if your child requires an allergen-free lunch table to prevent cross-contamination.
For birthdays and other celebrations, make sure your child has access to safe snacks, or even better, offer to provide snacks for all to enjoy.
Thank school staff for being accommodating, and let them know how to contact you if they have any questions about keeping your child safe.
Most importantly, talk with your child about how to stay safe from allergens at school. This will help him/her become more independent and advocate for himself. Establish some ground rules so that your child knows what to due in case of an emergency or an allergic realtion.
Dr. Hillary Zieve is a pediatrician in Orange, Calif. She received her medical degree from the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, is currently affiliated with CHOC Children’s Hospital and is a community practice partner for Ready, Set, Food! readysetfood.com