Sending your child with food allergies to school or daycare can cause a lot of anxiety for parents. So what are some tips for preventing reactions and keeping your child safe when they’re not at home?
As a mom of a young child with severe anaphylactic allergies and someone who worked in a public school for years, below are 13 tips that can help prevent allergic reactions at school:
- Talk With Your Child’s Teacher Early On
- Be Clear About What Is and What is Not Safe
- Ensure Medicine and Emergency Plan is Updated
- Make Sure Medicine and Emergency Plan are Accessible
- Teach Your Child to be Aware + Advocate for Allergy Needs
- Have Your Child Wear an Allergy Bracelet or T-shirt
- Talk with Your Child’s Class and Parents
- Encourage Non-Food Rewards + Activities
- Offer Safe Substitutions (Not Just Exclusions)
- Label Your Child’s Lunchbox and Water Bottle
- Have Your Child Pack Her Own Lunch to Prevent Mix-ups
- Volunteer in the Classroom and Field Trips
- Ask Questions and Keep in Contact with Teacher
1. Talk With Your Child’s Teacher Early On
Before we chose a preschool for our daughter, I interviewed several teachers in the area. I took our daughter along to observe classrooms and meet teachers to find out if it would be a good environment. One of the questions we food allergy parents must ask is how food is handled in the classroom.
I found these conversations were best face-to-face and here’s what I typically asked:
- How are snacks handled? Are they shared or do students bring individual snacks? (Most preschools in our area do shared snacks, which was not something I was willing to risk. Eventually, I found a good fit and a rare preschool where each child brought thier individual snack that fit their diet needs.)
- Are there many celebrations with extra treats? Birthday treats, Valentine’s Day parties, 100th day of School, etc. I advocated for the focus to be on the child and not on food at least for the year our daughter was in that class.
- Can this be a peanut-free classroom? The best teachers, in my experience, have offered this as an option after I share that our daughter has had contact reactions to peanut protein. Depending on your child’s allergy, severity, and age, you may or may not need the enviornment to be free from an allergen.
- Can you let me know about special snacks ahead of time so I can provide a safe alternative?
- Do you know how to administer an Epi-Pen or Auvi-Q? Are you familiar with recognizing anaphylaxis? (if this pertains to your child)
A teacher’s response to these questions will give you a pretty good idea if she is on board with working with you to keep your child safe. Bringing your child with you to meet the teacher helps put a face to the need and gives your child opportunities to hear you discuss his/her allergy, what your child needs, and how to respectfully advocate for them (a skill your child will need to learn and use for life).
2. Be Clear About What Is and What is Not Safe
The best teachers do not brush off allergies as just a diet preference. They should understand that allergies vary by individual and want to know from you, the parent and expert, what is safe and what is not safe. Be clear about them and don’t assume teachers know what you’ve learned about your child’s needs.
For example, I was clear that our daughter should never eat food sent by anyone else. She was too young to read and the teacher was not an expert in her allergies or how to read food labels from an allergy perspective, so I just set a boundary that was very clear and easy for everyone to follow–even a four-year-old! The clearer the guidelines, the better.
Head over here for a Free Printable Peanut Free Zone Sign or Nut Free Zone Sign!
3. Ensure Medicine and Emergency Plan is Updated
Make sure your child has enough allergy medicine and that it’s not expired. Setting up an automatic reminder on your phone is a great way to stay ahead of wxpiration dates.
Review your Emergency Action Plan with your healthcare provider and communicate any changes with your child’s teacher at least annually.
When our child turned six, her allergist increased the dosage for her liquid allergy medicine. Make sure changes are reflected on the Emergency Action Plan your child’s teacher/school has.
4. Make Sure Medicine and Emergency Plan are Accessible
Another great discuss to have with your child’s teacher is where your child’s medicine and action plan will be kept.
- Are they kept in the classroom?
- Does your child self-carry?
- Are they locked up in an office?
- Can someone get to them quickly and easily in the case of a dreaded emergency?
Schools likely have differing rules and guidelines about this. Make sure you, your child, your child’s teacher, and the school nurse (if there is one) are all on the same page about where the plan and medicine are kept. This is especially important if your child has an anaphylactic allergy.
Since we had the choice, we opted to have our child’s emergency medicine stored in the teacher’s desk inside an Allermates Auvi-Q or Epi-Pen Belt Carrier. This way the medicine was quickly accessible and her teacher could easily snap it around her waist whenever they left the classroom.
5. Teach Your Child to be Aware + Advocate for Their Allergy Needs
It’s never too early to start teaching your child about how their body reacts to foods. Once your child reaches preschool or school age, she could definitely have an understanding of:
- what food makes her sick
- what could happen if she eats certain food
- who she should or should not take food from
- who to tell if she starts feeling sick
I began reading children’s allergy books to our daughter at a young age. I regularly talk with her about her allergies, and I encourage her to talk to others about her allergies to build that confidence (grandparents, babysitters, anyone who offers her food, etc).
Self-awareness and self-advocacy can help save your child’s life (and possibly others around her with food allergies), so I hope she’s never embarrased or ashamed about them.
If you haven’t yet, read my Best Tips for Raising Confident Kids With Food Allergies.
6. Have Your Child Wear an Allergy Bracelet or T-Shirt
Your child may have the sweetest teacher and amazing collaborator, but classrooms get really busy with dozens of kids’ needs and every once in a while, the teacher will be out sick. So having your child wear an Allergy Bracelet is an easy way to draw attention.
Food Allergy Bracelets and Food Allergy T-shirts make great conversation starters for students, teacher’s aids, parent volunteers, substitute teachers, and principals to learn more about your child’s needs. The more people are aware of your child’s allergy, the more people at school can help keep her safe!
7. Talk With Your Child’s Class and Parents
If you’re counting on the other students in your child’s classroom to help keep your child safe, then you’ll need to connect with them, get to know them, let them know your needs, and answer questions.
Here are several ideas in ways you could do this:
- Briefly introduce yourself, your child, and their food allergy needs in front of the class or via Zoom
- Read a children’s book about food allergies to the class
- Write a letter to be sent home to each family member
Make yourself available to answer questions in the moment and if questions arise later. Keep the class updated as your child’s food allergy needs change and involve your child in a way you best see fit.
8. Encourage Non-Food Rewards
Roughly one in thirteen students have food allergies (according to FARE), plus, there are many others with intolerances or other food-related health concerns. This makes it increasingly difficult to provide food that everyone can eat.
The best solution for this is to start moving away from food rewards and including snacks in every activity. Instead, encourage teachers, coaches, and other parents in your life to offer:
- stickers or temporary tattoos
- pencils or pens
- praise and compliments
- free time or outside time
- special written notes
- balloons or fidgets
- opportunities to socialize with friends
- special time with teacher or another adult
- colors, coloring pages, or time to color
- cheap craft kits
- quick silly games
I was an advocate for non-food rewards when I worked in schools and now that I’m a food allergy parent, I stand even more firm in this stance. This could also help the serious health concern of child obesity in America.
9. Offer Safe Substitutions (Not Just Exclusions)
Nobody likes to be told what they can’t have without a replacement option. So instead of just saying “no peants,” be helpful by offering safe substitutions too!
For example, if your child has a peanut allergy, you can send them to these articles with peanut free options:
- Peanut Butter Substitutes
- Peanut Free Snacks
- Peanut Free Protein Bars
- Peanut Free Cookies
- Peanut Free Chips
- Peanut Free M & Ms
- Peanut Free Donuts
- Peanut Free Brands
- Peanut Free Valentine’s Treats
- Peanut Free Easter Candy
If your child is an an allergen-free environment (e.g, a peanut free classroom), consider gifting them a safe substitution. For one of our communities, I know it’s inconvenient for families to not be able to pack peanut butter sandwiches, so for a Christmas gift, I bought each family a jar of SunButter.
If buying a safe alternative is not financially feasible, consider sending them a list of safe options from a trusted blog or coupons from a safe company to help other families save time and money.
10. Label Your Child’s Lunch and Water Bottle
I’ve heard of children with similar lunchboxes or water bottles getting them mixed up at school, which can cause big problems for kids with food allergies. Make your child’s lunchbox unique by decorating it or buying a unique one. It also helps to clearly labeling their lunchbox and water bottleto prevent accidental mix-ups.
Check out the lunchbox we got that gets compliments all the time in our Favorite Ways to Take Safe Food On the Go! The unique magnets can be fun for your child and be a way to stand out in a classroom of lunchboxes.
11. Have Your Child Pack Her Food To Prevent Mix-ups
You can also prevent accidental mixups if your child knows what’s in their snack or lunch. If she’s old enough, have her pack it herself. If she’s not old enough, have her help you.
As a last resort, just show or tell her what’s in it, but the more involved your child is in the packing process, the more likely she will remember what’s in it and recognize if she accidentally got someone else’s food.
12. Volunteer in the Classroom and Field Trips
This may not work in every situation, but whenever it works, it’s a good idea to volunteer and be present to keep an eye on how things are handled, offer feedback, and be a helper.
13. Ask Questions and Keep in Contact with Teacher
Keep in regular contact with your child’s teacher. Ask how things are going. Share if your child shares anything that concerns you. Ask how field trips or special event days went and see if the teacher has any questions.
Teachers are kind and want your child to be safe under their watch. And as the parent, keep in contact with them to help your child and their teacher both be successful!
Share These Tips with Other Food Allergy Parents
Kids with Food Allergies around the world would appreciate if you’d take a second to share this on Pinterest, Facebook, or via Email to prevent unnecessary allergic reactions at school.
I hope these tips help you, your child, AND others in our community.
From one food allergy parent to another,
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