Helping Your Child Manage Their Allergies at School
Young children not remembering to speak about their allergies or struggling to express details of them in a clear way to staff can be worrying prospects for parents sending their children off for their first day of school. Particularly when, up until now, you’ve had total control over what they eat and their environment.
It’s estimated that 5-8% of children in the UK suffer from a food-related sensitivity such as a nut allergy, dairy allergy, or wheat allergy. Luckily, schools have organised systems (read the allergy guidance and rules for schools here) in place to protect your child with allergies and prevent reactions. Of course, it’s still so easy to worry, so here are our tips to help you and your child feel comfortable managing their allergies at school.
Helping them understand their allergy
Clear communication with your child about their allergy is so easy to do and yet can make all the difference. Explaining in simple terms to your child exactly what their allergy is, does and how to stay safe, can allow them to express themselves to staff and take charge of their own body and health. This is a skill that will support them all throughout their future.
- Firstly, explain that particular foods can make them very poorly. For example, “You have a peanut allergy. This means that when you eat food with peanuts in, you get very sick.”
- Teach them which foods are ‘safe foods’ and which are ‘unsafe foods’ using pictures or by pointing them out in the supermarket.
- Make sure they know to only eat food given to them by trusted adults, like parents or staff, who are aware of their allergy and if they’re still not sure, to always ask the adult if they know they have a food allergy.
- Most importantly, teach them how to seek an adult when they feel ill. If you feel they can understand it, explain your emergency plan in the event of anaphylaxis or reaction.
When children are young and struggle to understand concepts, it can be tempting to leave things like allergies to the ‘grown-ups’ but it’s much better to involve your child in the conversation from the very start so that they can understand how important it is.
Because long conversations can be a tricky way to engage a child in a topic, instead involve them in shopping for and cooking with ‘safe foods’, making show of always bringing their medical equipment (like EpiPens) when you leave the house and sharing with them the safety tasks that you probably already do unconsciously. For example, saying statements like “We should read the ingredients to check for your unsafe foods.”
Children learn from watching so if you can openly show them, in a way they understand, actions that will keep them safe, they are much more likely to follow the same procedures at school by themselves.
Questions to ask their school and teachers
When enrolling your child at school, it is crucial that you inform them of any allergies your child has, no matter how severe.
Ensure the school has:
- A copy of your child’s allergy management plan from their GP or specialist
- A picture of your child and the basic details of their allergy
- Emergency contact details for you and their doctor
- Any medications or equipment your child needs
- Give your child’s specific teacher a list of safe foods
- Where will food be kept?
- Where will your child eat?
- What are their cleaning processes?
- Who oversees lunchtime and snack time?
- Who is responsible for handwashing?
- Who will train substitute teachers and other staff to recognize and treat a reaction?
- Where will medical information be kept and who will be informed of your child’s allergy?
- Where will your child’s medication be kept?
Ask the school to:
- Educate the staff and children about allergic reactions – this includes how children may describe their allergic reactions e.g., food tastes spicy, tongue feels hot/itchy/funny, lips feel tight
- Discourage food sharing among children
- Encourage hand washing
- Discourage food as rewards and give notice for food related events (like end of term parties)
- Look out for non-food items that could contain allergens
- You could even send a letter to other parents explaining allergies and cross contamination or offer your help in preparing foods for birthday parties so they will be safe for your little one. Keep this letter light and not demanding; it is not meant to be a letter of instruction but simply a letter of information, so other parents are aware.
Overall, it is important to encourage the school to be involved in on-going conversations with you. Let them know they can call you anytime to ask any questions they may have or to check foods and ingredients; it is much better to err on the side of caution.
Labelling medication and property
Just like how you stay organised with meal planning and ingredient-checking, labelling your child’s medication and general property can prevent cross-contamination and save precious, life-saving seconds if a severe reaction were to occur.
Make sure to label any medication given to the school to hold. This includes individual EpiPens and inhalers. With our Small Stick-On Name Labels you can label medication with your child’s name. If the medication is kept in a container, you can label this with a larger Allergy Label that has an alert icon, name and emergency information or allergy details on.
Our Allergy Labels also work well to label lunchboxes, meaning any staff on duty at breaktimes can see clearly who has an allergy and therefore they will be much quicker in spotting potential signs of a reaction.
For severe allergies, consider getting a medical alert bracelet, like our Safety ID Wristbands, with your child’s allergy and emergency contact details on, for days out where the people around you are not aware of your child’s allergies. These are also useful to alert medical personnel called when reactions occur, meaning they can quickly work out what caused the reaction and give the corresponding medication.
General labelling of your child’s belongings is a good idea to discourage sharing (and therefore potential cross-contamination), and to make things easy to find in the event of a reaction. Use our Bag Tags to label backpacks or medication bags, and check out our full range of stickers and name labels for school equipment and general property.
Author: Anna Allam