As we all approach the new school year, there is a great deal of stress for parents. We want to make sure that our children are comfortable and confident in their new environments. In my family, it’s also the time that I check all of the expiration dates on our Epi-Pens, make sure the school nurse, new teachers, bus drivers and after school care providers are aware of my son’s allergies and that they all have the doctor’s recommended Allergy Action Plan in hand. We also label all of his necessary medications with Name Bubbles Allergy Labels, so I rest a little easier knowing my son’s medical details and our contact information is quickly accessible.
Although we take these precautions and remember Cooper is still young, I feel that it is important to help him understand that he is also responsible for his own safety. I am his advocate, I will help him manage his risks and learn how to look out for himself but Cooper will need to understand and feel confident in the following areas:
1) Understand the symptoms of a food allergic-reaction – is your throat itchy, do you feel sick; are you having a difficult time breathing?
2) Feel confident in asking what’s in a particular food and if it’s okay for him to eat it – Cooper can read the large packaging but not the small ingredients list.
3) Know to tell his teacher or an adult when he isn’t feeling well and to ask for his allergy medicine.
4) Many, many reminders to keep his hands out of his mouth and not to rub his eyes, nose, or mouth and of course to wash his hands before he eats – the proteins from other children’s food can easily be left behind on the playground or classroom. If they have to rub their eye or itch their nose, encourage your child to rub or itch with a part of their arm.
5) If food is offered from another parent, other than Mom and Dad, Cooper needs to ask the adult if it contains any tree nuts, peanuts or coconut.
6) Recognize good and bad foods – during our trips to the grocery store, I will often point out the items that Cooper cannot have and the reasons why. On the other hand, we still encourage him to try new foods that are safe for him to eat, and he has developed a pretty sophisticated palette for a little guy.
7) Recognize pre-packaged snacks – many foods may contain allergens due to shared equipment during processing. Cooper needs to ask an adult for help reading the labels but I do like that he has some brand and product recognition.
8) Know his cafeteria helpers and know the different choices before school starts everyday – We visit the cafeteria with him before school starts, meet the person in charge of the menu and make sure we have the menu posted at our house.
9) Find a bus buddy that can inform the bus driver if an allergic reaction is happening – where we live, kids are not supposed to eat on the bus, but I do keep medicine in Cooper’s backpack with several allergy labels strategically placed on the outside. This is the part of his day I fear the most, the trip between school and after school care.
10) Know where his medicine is at all times – we keep Cooper’s medicine in the same drawer in the kitchen, in his backpack, in the nurse’s office at school, and at the after school care office.
Please provide any comments or tips that you would like to share or have found helpful in reducing food allergy anxiety for your family. For additional resources visit www.foodallergy.org.