Close to 56 million American children are now back to school, settling into new routines and starting another year of learning. As the school year kicks off, both parents and their children are diving head first into the school social scene: playdates are getting scheduled, after school activities are beginning, and the invitations to birthday parties are soon to arrive. For many, the school community is central to their social life. The kids get to know each other, as do their parents, and for many, these relationships last from kindergarten until high school and even beyond.
Having a food allergy (for the kids) and having a child with a food allergy (for the parents) can complicate the relationships that develop between families in the school community. According to a recent study supported by the Food Allergy Initiative, about 8% of American kids less than age 18 – or roughly 2 kids per classroom – have a food allergy. Needing to appropriately manage food allergies in the school community and the school social scene adds some complexity when filling up the lunch bags, planning the play-dates, and getting the parties started. And it is all too often that you hear of schools divided and ill will sparked because of differing opinions about food allergy management.
Knowing why it is that kids with food allergies need to do things a bit differently can go a long way to keeping school communities from dividing over food allergy issues. Communication and understanding is key for everybody, because managing food allergies cannot be the sole responsibility of the child and the parents – some children are too young to communicate what they need, and parents are not physically at school or at all playdates. It therefore requires understanding and effort on the part of the surrounding community as well as the families of kids with food allergies to help prevent allergic reactions from occurring, recognize allergic reactions when they do occur, and know how to respond to an allergic reaction with the appropriate emergency medicine and procedures to protect that child.
As I am passionate about food allergy education for the entire school community, I have been involved in the creation of two resources created for this purpose.
The first, a free allergy education website, AllergyHome.org, offers education that addresses many different allergic disorders. We have created a specific section to help educate the entire school community about food allergies.
- Found here is a free, 4 ½ minute slide show with audio created to educate elementary school age children without food allergies. This short introduction to food allergy management can also be used to educate parents of children without food allergies.
- There is also a set of an interactive True/False questions that hopefully dispel some common myths about allergies. We hope they are used to increase food allergy awareness while reviewing some important skills for managing food allergies.
- For those who want more information, please see the 40 minute food allergy awareness module based on the Massachusetts Food Allergy Guidelines: Managing Life Threatening Food Allergies in Schools. This free resource is designed to increase school staff food allergy awareness. It details some of the steps that need to be taken to ensure the safety of students with food allergies in school.
The second resource is Everyday Cool with Food Allergies, a children’s book designed to help parents and caregivers teach basic food allergy management skills to preschool and early school age children. This can be used not only to teach young kids with food allergies but also to teach their non allergic friends.
(And special thanks to Karen Rance, DNP, RN, CPNP, AE-C and Ready Set Grow, the publication of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, for collaborating on a similar piece about food allergy awareness due for publication in the Fall of 2011.)