Now is the time when parents are beginning to plan for the children going back to school in September. Buying new uniform and thinking about other things they need to take with them, such as stationery, and, perhaps lunchboxes or navigating school meals, a school canteen and/or snacks at school.
For parents whose children have allergies, they will already be considering other issues too, and especially if their child is changing schools, from nursery to infant, or primary to secondary.
Parents can control what children eat for lunches if you are preparing packed lunches. However, there are many more times when events are out of your control. This is especially true at a secondary school where teenagers start to want to make their own decisions, their own food choices and they will really start to run the gauntlet of ‘what can they trust’ if they have serious food allergies. So how can you prepare for returning, or even starting school?
10 tips for parents:
- Starting to educate your child at home about their allergies is the best starting point, particularly when they are younger. Explain, and teach them they should never accept food from a friend without checking with an adult first. When they become teens, teach them the importance of checking food packaging for allergy information and if in doubt don’t eat. Also give them some tips on snacks which are safe for them (link here to CN snacks) that they can suggest to the providers of food onsite (often an outsourced provider).
- Make sure they can also look for the less obvious wording on food labels, such as ‘may include traces of’ and ‘made in a factory using’… etc.
- Ensure your child always has a portable allergy kit with them. For a child with a risk of anaphylaxis, this may mean having an EpiPen. But it could also mean including a supply of antihistamines. Depending on the child’s age, they may be able to administer the drug themselves, but if not, make sure your child’s teacher knows how to give the EpiPen, and check they are first aid trained. Most secondary schools should have a care plan setting out exactly what to do in a crisis which can be acted upon immediately.
- Make sure they always have a range of allergen-free snacks to take with them, so that they don’t resort to sharing a friend’s chocolate bar when they feel hungry. We’d recommend our Gnawbles as they closely resemble other types of sweet treats but are healthier and safe.
- Make sure Nursery staff, teachers, club leaders are all educated in how to manage your child’s allergy. If necessary offer to go in and talk to them about what it’s like to live with serious allergies.
- Speak to the school before the start of term, so that the staff understand the severity of the allergy, and what they should do if a problem arises. Ask if there is a school nurse, and also ask about staff training. Does the school have a food allergy management policy?
- Speak to your child’s teacher about allergen control in subjects such as music or art; classroom celebrations, cleaning up after any food has been in the classroom and remembering to alert supply teachers about children with allergies.
- The British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology have created Allergy Action plans for children, where your GP can provide guidance on how to manage allergic reactions, which is particularly important for children who have anaphylaxis. Do you have a BSACI allergy action plan that you can share with the school?
- Ask if you can you talk to kitchen staff about how food is managed at lunchtimes. Also talk about how important it is to ensure there is no cross contamination.
- Offer to go into school to give a talk to other parents in your child’s class, so they understand why it is so important your child is not exposed to certain foods, and the seriousness of the outcome should a slip-up happen.
Lastly, when talking to staff from school, emphasise the importance of whilst keeping your child safe, you don’t want them to feel different, or to feel ostracised by being sat alone during lunchtimes, or always being pointing out they are the reason the class can’t do something, because of their allergies. School should be a safe place and a time to make friends and enjoy learning. Children need to feel they are part of the group, not feel left out. They want to fit in with everyone else.
Ensuring the schools’ staff are aware of your child’s needs, and are happy to help provide a safe environment for them is incredibly important, not only for their health well-being, but also their ability to enjoy their school years.