Fear overwhelmed my body and mind as I thought about leaving Isabelle. The church nursery had always been such a wonderful, welcoming place. Suddenly it seemed fraught with danger and disaster. What changed? Food allergies!
Food allergies and intolerances sure can make the world a whole lot scarier, but our kids still have to live their lives. If we work with their teachers and leaders we can set them up for a fun, safe year!
To help your child’s teachers and leaders, go over these 3 things with them.
- The basics of your child’s allergy
- Classroom situations requiring special caution
- What to do if your child is exposed
While I said food allergy, this same plan will help whether your child has an allergy, intolerance, or Celiac Disease. No, they are not all the same thing, but the same things need to be discussed.
The first thing you want to do is go over the basics. What are the specific trigger foods for your child? Dairy, eggs, gluten, whatever it is, lay it out in plain, common terms. Be sure to explain places where that ingredient is commonly found. Especially those that the teacher may not think of. For example, nearly all commercial playdough has wheat in it, and most peanut butter contains soybean oil.
As you explain the basics, give them an overview of simple ways to prevent cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is a common cause of reactions in children. This is especially true because people who don’t live their lives dealing with this may not understand how serious it is.
Each classroom and club is different but they tend to have certain things in common. Often there are scenarios that are unique to these places and not part of your normal life. Having a plan in place ahead of time will prevent everyone from scrambling at the last minute.
Let’s start with the most common issue first. Treats. The reality is that treats are a part of life. Whether they are a reward for hard work or just a way to brighten a kid’s day, they will be given out at some point. Provide the people working with your child a list of safe treats. Be specific. If only certain flavors or sizes are safe, be sure to note that. Here is a list of candies that meet the needs of many food allergies to get you started.
Certain classroom events are also likely to be sources of trouble. If you’ve spent much time in a classroom you know that celebrations typically involve food. Holiday crafts like pasta necklaces for mother’s day and gingerbread houses at Christmas have been tradition for eons (or at least since I was a kid, which was eons ago). As kids get older experiments involving bread, flour, and other foods become popular.
Making A Plan
These activities aren’t going to magically disappear from society (even if that would make our lives easier). That means we need to be proactive. Working with teachers and leaders ahead of time to create a plan will save a lot of stress and frustration down the road. You want to put a plan in place for how to handle classroom activities involving food. There are a few things to consider.
- Can a stash of safe foods be kept at school?
- How much prior notice do you want for an activity including food?
- Can the food safely be in your child’s presence?
- Are you comfortable with your child touching (but not eating) the food?
- Do you want your child excused to another room during activities?
- Can you provide safe substitutes for foods used in activities?
- Would you prefer that no food be allowed in the classroom?
No matter how careful everyone is, there is always a risk of exposure to allergens. It stinks, but it is reality with food allergies. Obviously the risk is greater outside of your home. Home is our safe haven, but out in the world we can’t control everything to make it safe. That means you NEED to have an exposure plan in place and share it with everyone who will care for your child.
Things to include in an exposure plan:
- Signs and symptoms that your child may have been unknowingly exposed
- Danger signs for your child
- What your child needs in the event of an exposure (who to call, any medicine to administer, if monitoring is needed)
Living With Food Allergies
As tempting as it is to hide away at home, it’s not the best choice for us or our children. We can’t live in a bubble. Eventually our children will (and should) be out in the world. One day they will be old enough to manage life with food allergies on their own. Until then, our job is to make this process as safe as possible. That means having a plan in place and clearly communicating it. Work with your teachers and leaders to create a fun, safe environment for your child!