As any food allergy parent will tell you, the management of food allergies can have a profound effect on a family’s life, trickling into aspects of day-to-day living, both large and small. Daily activities such as grocery shopping, cooking dinner, and preparing snacks become challenging, as food package labels do not consistently list food allergens. When dining out, families will frequent the same safe restaurant over and over where they feel safe and included, or they may avoid eating out altogether. Other families will limit vacations requiring airplane flights or overnight stays. Socially, food allergies can affect a child’s ability to play at a friend’s house, and limit participation in birthday parties, organized sports, and camps(1).
Parents are both mentally and physically exhausted. Research has shown that mothers were anxious about 1) transferring the responsibility of care to the school/teacher 2) negative attitudes of non-food allergic families toward their child 3) Their child having a normal school experience (2).
So, what does this mean for parents and teachers? Everyone needs to work together, to find a solution to keep all the students in the classroom, both physically and emotionally healthy and safe.
Parents be ready to brainstorm ideas with your child’s teacher about alternative actives to replace ones that had been done with food in the past and help to educate the teacher about what your child’s previous reactions have looked like (noting that this is not a predictor of future reactions). Finally, be willing to coordinate activities with other parents, so everyone is safe and included.
Teachers remember the parent is coming from a place of fear. Try not to use food as a reward; remind students to wash hands, hand sanitizer does not remove food proteins. Show the parent that you are trained and know how to use their child’s epinephrine auto-injector. Also, keep an extra eye out for bullying; food-allergic students are at a higher risk.
Share with us in the comments what has worked in your classrooms to keep all students included!
(1)Feng, C., & Kim, J. (2018). Beyond avoidance: The psychosocial impact of food allergies. Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology,57(1), 74-82. doi:10.1007/s12016-018-8708-x
(2) Sanagavarapu, P., Said, M., Katelaris, C., & Wainstein, B. (2016). Transition to school anxiety for mothers of children with food allergy: Implications for educators. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood,41(4), 115-122. doi:10.1177/183693911604100414