Even though most of us are just finishing school for the year, now is the best time to get
started preparing for the new school year.
Back to School with Food Allergies
Sending a child off to school for the first time evokes feelings from parents that range
from pride and excitement to nostalgia and concern … and sometimes even a little
anxiety. Parents of youngsters with food allergies or celiac disease can feel this anxiety
with particular intensity.
Will your child be safe at school? Here are some tips to help make school days
happy and safe for your little one.
Start early. Develop a Food Allergy Action plan with your child’s pediatric allergist. This
is a document created with your doctor that explains your child’s medical condition and
outlines specific emergency treatment. Then well before the school year begins, inform
the principal that your child with food allergies or sensitivities is enrolled. Meet with
the principal, the school nurse and your child’s teacher to review the action plan and
establish ways to ensure a safe school year for your child.
Determine your school’s food allergy protocols. Schools are generally more aware
of food allergies than in the past and many have already developed policies to care for
their students. Depending on your district, your child’s school may have less experience
and you may need to work in cooperation with school officials and staff to put safe
strategies into place. Leverage existing policies as a starting point, modifying them to
meet your child’s specific needs. Your goal is to create a team of caring, well-informed
adults who are all working together to keep your child safe.
Get familiar with the law. Review local, state and national policies and guidelines that
relate to your child’s condition. Your school can develop an Individualized Education
Program (IEP), if necessary. Federal laws may apply (ADA, Section 504, etc.). Local and
state regulations may also impact how your school responds.
Be an expert. Know your child’s allergy, symptoms and trigger food products. The
school will look to you for information, such as signs of allergic reaction and safe foods.
Prepare for emergency. Provide the school with your child’s medications (check
expiration dates!). Ensure that staff understand your child’s symptoms–and what to do
should they occur, including how to administer an Epi-Pen. Give the school nurse your
child’s Food Allergy Action plan, all necessary signed and completed consent forms and
your latest contact information.
Communicate with other parents. Ask your school’s principal to send out a letter on
school letterhead (or distribute an official e-mail) to the parents in your child’s class,
explaining and re-enforcing the school’s food allergy protocols. The message should
educate parents about your child’s specific food allergy and explain if your child’s allergy
is life threatening. Ask for their cooperation and outline specifically what they can do to
help keep your child safe.
Empower your child. Educate your youngster about his/her health condition in an age-
appropriate way. Teach him/her about symptoms and how to speak up. Remind your
child to refuse trigger foods and to ask about ingredients in every snack. Instruct your
child how to read labels.
Stay involved. Provide the teacher with a stash of safe snacks. Work closely with the
school throughout the year. Whenever possible, participate in field trips, lunchtime, class
parties and special programs.
Keep your cool. Don’t ever take resistance personally. Do not allow yourself to become
discouraged. Continue to advocate on your child’s behalf and reiterate the seriousness
of your child’s food allergy. Be polite but firm. Say “thank you” to those who are helping
Think positively. Children pick up their cues from their parents so model confidence
and competence in regard to food allergy management. Focus on what your child can
do, not on deprivation. Plan and encourage fun activities and celebrations that don’t
center around food.
From Cassandra – This is extremely important! Oftentimes, this will make or break
a child. I’ve seen it both ways, and it is devastating when the parent only focuses on the bad.
For more back-to-school help, visit www.livingwithout.com. Alicia Woodward is editor-
in-chief of Living Without magazine, the nation’s leading publication for people with food
allergies, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Alicia, a licensed clinical social worker
and psychotherapist, specializes in the psychological and social aspects of food allergies