As the parent of a child who has peanut allergy, I know full well the anxiety that one feels when their allergic child attends school. They are suddenly in an environment where they may come into contact with peanuts. As parents we are no longer in control; however, we can still be advocates for our children.
Communication between the parents and the school is critical to keeping the allergic child safe. Teachers need to understand the child’s allergy and be able to handle any emergency. Simply put, have strategies in place to prevent a reaction and have a plan in place should an allergic reaction occur. Here are some tips to consider when addressing safety at school.
What is the School’s Food Allergy Policy?
Each school board will have a policy outlining how the schools are to handle severe allergies. Find out your school’s protocol and verify that it is in place. As peanut allergy has become more prevalent the awareness in schools has improved.
For example, in Ontario Sabrina’s Law states that all schools must have emergency protocol in place for children with anaphylaxis allergies, including a plan to avoid exposure to the allergen, and details on how a reaction is to be handled. All employees who are in contact with allergic children must be trained on how to handle an allergic reaction.
Talk to the Teachers About Peanut Allergy
Most teachers have taught children with food allergies and tend to be allergy aware. Regardless, do not assume they know how to handle your child’s allergy. Take the time to review details specific to your child’s allergy. Make sure they understand what symptoms to look out for.
Verify that the teacher is comfortable using an Epi-pen. Most teachers are trained but always check, don’t assume. In my experience, I have found teachers eager to review the steps for administering an Epi-pen. Both the teacher’s and the parent’s comfort level will benefit from reviewing the process.
Plan Ahead to Avoid Allergen Exposure
Talk to the teacher about risks before they become an issue. The teacher may not even view some events as risky simply because they do not see the environment through your trained eyes. Here are some examples of questions to ask:
- Discuss where your child is eating and how peanut products will be avoided. Some schools will have peanut free class rooms.
- Agree on a plan to handle birthday or holiday treats sent in by other parents. Sending in a special treat bag so the teacher has some peanut free options is a great idea.
- Field trips pose another risk. Ask if you can volunteer. If that is not possible verify that your child will be with the teacher. Have the teacher carry an extra Epi-pen on the trip.
Educate Your Child About the Peanut Allergy
It is never too early to start teaching your child about their allergy. Start by setting some simple rules for them to follow, including the following:
- Never share lunches.
- Always check with the teacher or an adult if a treat is being handed out.
- Wash hands before eating.
- For the older child teach them to verify labels and to look for peanut warnings.
If the the child is old enough, show them how to use their Epi-pen. Discuss the symptoms they might have when having an allergic reaction. Help them learn to identify a possible reaction. Explain what might happen if they have a reaction at school. It may seem like a difficult conversation to have but the more the child knows the less frightened they will be should a reaction occur.
It is not easy to send a child with peanut allergy to school. However, taking the time to verify allergy protocol, keeping open communication with the teacher, and planning ahead can help promote a safe environment. Educating your child about their allergy will help them learn to safely manage the challenges they face on their own.