Is your allergic kiddo heading back to school soon, or even off to school for the first time?
There are tons of things to do, of course, from working out accommodations, filling prescriptions for the emergency meds, getting Action Plans, packaging all the meds and plans together, gathering safe backup snacks……
But throughout all the bustle, don’t forget to make sure that your kiddo is prepped, too! It doesn’t matter whether they’re new at this or an old pro, it’s never the wrong time to quiz your child on how to handle their allergies!
Here are some questions you want your allergic child to be able to answer. If they’ve never thought about a certain scenario, give them a chance to work it through by themselves before making your own suggestions.
- What do you do if someone offers you food at school?
- What do you do if the food contains your allergens?
- What do you do if the answer is “I don’t know?” …”I don’t think so?” …”Probably not?” or “Just a little bit?”
- If your child can read, or at least recognize the words for their allergens, encourage them to ask for the label.
- If everybody else is eating a snack but you didn’t get one because of your allergies, what should you do?
- Should you take a taste of something that isn’t yours because it looks yummy?
- Should you ever share food?
- Should you take food from other children?
- Should you give food to other children?
- Should you eat something because another kid tells you to try it?
- Do your friends know if food is safe?
- Should you ever eat a food without a trusted grown-up’s approval?
- Should you touch your friends’ and their food while eating, or should you keep your hands to yourself?
- What should you do if you touch your friends’ food by accident?
- What should you do if your friend’s food touches your food?
- Where is your medicine kept?
- What’s the quickest way from your classroom to your medicine? (From the lunchroom? From the gym? etc.)
- If the nurse’s office is locked, where should you go if you need your medicine?
- Where is your medicine during field trips?
- What symptoms mean which medicine? (If your child is mature enough to know the differences on their action plan.)
- When should you use your medicine?
- Is an EpiPen a toy? Should you play with it or show it to other kids? (Particularly if child is self-carrying.)
- What do you do if you have an allergic reaction at school?
- Should you wait to see if it gets worse before telling anyone?
- Who do you tell?
- What should the teacher have you do after you tell her?
- What should the nurse do when you get to her office? (Or ask this question with regard to an aide or the classroom teacher if the medicine follows your child around, or he self-carries.)
- If you need epinephrine for your reaction, what should the school do next?
- If your teacher doesn’t send you to the nurse or grab your medicine, what should you do?
- What should you do if you report a reaction to a teacher or other grown-up and they tell you to get back to work/back to recess?
- Do you ever sit back at your desk and stop “complaining” about how you feel?
- Should you go to the nurse alone? (Only if you have to.)
What I’m getting at with the last four questions is that sometimes children don’t speak clearly, or they start speaking before they have the teacher’s full attention, so they needed to persist until they are understood. In other, more rare but certainly very infuriating instances, a teacher (or more likely a janitor, aide, parent volunteer, or teacher who spends less time with the child) will try to send them back to class, recess, lunch, or whatever they were doing. So I always tell my kids that if the grown-ups aren’t doing the right thing, they need to do it themselves. Zax enjoys coming up with ways to “thwart” the clueless teacher in order to get to the nurse’s office–it gets him creatively engaged in the conversation. I always tell him that he will not get in trouble–I will get in trouble if any such problem were to come up. But I also remind him that nobody at school wants to see him get hurt, so it’s very unlikely that anyone would think he should get in trouble for protecting himself from an allergic reaction.
I wrote extensively on the subject of children hiding allergic reactions here, and I encourage you to read this if you haven’t before. It may not have occurred to you that your child might hide a reaction. But for now, here are some questions to help your child remember that ALL reactions should be reported, and that they should never keep it to themselves or try to wait it out:
- If you have an allergic reaction, even if it was your fault, will you get in trouble?
- If your teacher tells you a food is okay to eat, but it gives you a reaction, did she do that on purpose?
- If your friends got hurt, would you help them? How do you think your friends would feel if you had a bad reaction but hid it from everybody, so they couldn’t help you?
Hopefully your child will not encounter this, but it never hurts to have a plan of action for if it does. Responding right away may keep it from escalating.
- What do you do if someone waves something you’re allergic to at you or tries to get you to touch/eat it?
- What do you do if someone touches their food to yours on purpose?
- How can you keep yourself safe?
- Who should you tell?
- When should you tell?
- Should you ever joke about your allergies or play games about your allergies?
This is a lot of information, so don’t expect your child to answer them all at once–just start with a few and call it quits before you lose their attention. Let the conversation flow naturally and answer your kids’ questions along the way. Make sure to clear up any misconceptions they have right away. Then, ask a few more questions the next day, repeating some of the old ones to see if suggested answers have stuck. We go over these (and other safety topics, like stranger awareness) in the car on the way to school. The more you repeat it, the more ingrained the answers will become!
Here’s wishing you and your kids a safe, prepared, and low-stress back-to-school season!