Many parents are counting down the days until school goes back, There is the, YAY! School holidays are lovely but the kids are now fighting and I actually need to do some work, perspective. On the other hand families managing allergic conditions are counting down the days until once again they need to put their children’s medical care in the hands of others. Some families are old hats, been at this a long time, know the score and routine. Others are coming up to their milestones, first time at kindy, first time at pre-school, for these families it can be a challenging time. Either way it can be a daunting and busy time of year.
By now most of you managing allergies would have been in contact with the school and made a plan for the new year. If you haven’t, or allergies are recently diagnosed, it isn’t too late. Get in contact with the school and have a chat about your child’s allergies. Our top tip – go into the conversation with a positive attitude, it can help to know what you expect from the school in terms and allergy management and how you plan to support the school in delivering this.
So what can you do in the next week and a bit to prepare your child, your self and the school for your child’s arrival at school? We share our tips and thoughts below.
Medication – ensure their medication is ready for the school year. Epipen, antihistamine, asthma inhalers, whatever your child requires. Make sure is stored and labelled well, ideally with their photo and always with their Allergy Action Plan. Allergy Action Plans need to be signed by your child’s doctor so be sure to do this before school starts. Their are plans for anaphylaxis, allergies, eczema, asthma and FPIES. You can find them at the link below. Storage protocols will be specific to schools – make sure you are familiar with the schools medication storage and procedures. Again talk to the school about this if you have any concerns or special requests.
Prepare your child – one of our favourite things to talk about here at the hub is communicating with your child about their allergies. Most parents prepare their kids for the new school year, whether they are starting for the first or seventh time, use this opportunity to talk about allergies as well. Don’t worry, talking to your child about their allergies and how they can manage them at school, won’t frighten them or make them anxious as long as you approach it in a calm and positive way.
So how can you do this?
Remind them of their allergies and how you handle them as a family and how they will need to be handled at school. Discuss what it means to manage their own allergies in the school environment and let them know that their teacher is their allergy partner at school like you are at home. Remind them that they have own lunch box, not share food, ask the teacher before eating any food that is brought into the classroom, tell the teacher if they notice any allergens, wash their hands before they eat and tell a teacher if they are not felling well at any point. If they have asthma discuss their asthma plan and what to do if they feel unwell.
Read and play!
The best way to get these messages across is to read appropriate books and role play. Role playing school interactions with your child can be lots of fun and is a great learning tool. Set up a school or encourage them to set one up with friends. Play out what would happen if cupcakes were brought to school, or if a friend asked to swap lunches. Everyone has different approaches to allergy management so show your child how you, your family and the school will be approaching these situations. Always take into account the child’s age and capabilities. If they don’t quite get it the first time, just gently remind them and try again “Let’s try that again”. Get teddies and play out what would happen if they ate something at school and didn’t feel well. Play doctors and ensure they are comfortable all of their allergy medications and procedures. And read as many books as you can, kids love books and even more when the resonate with their life. Remember remain calm and positive and your child will start to build confidence about how they handle these situations.
My food allergy friends has some great back to school books. You can buy them online or in our offices.
Prepare yourself – back to school can be a busy and intense time for parents. Especially for those little ones going for the first time, and if it is the first time you have entrusted care of your child and their allergies to someone else. Give yourself time and space when they go back to school. Try and make the first week a calm one if you can where you don’t have too much on. It’s ok to feel a little anxious about your child going to school, that is normal for everyone and for those families managing allergies it is very understandable.
However, if you are very anxious and this anxiety is effecting the way you live or your quality of life, if you feel that you won’t be able to send your child on their first day or you can’t communicate to your child about school because it is to upsetting for you then please seek some assistance. We have a qualified psychologist here at the hub as well as family support officers who are here to lend an ear.
Talk to the teacher on the first morning – have a chat to the teacher on the first morning. Remind the teacher of your child’s allergies/allergic conditions and the processes you expect to be followed. This will help it to be at the top of their mind. If your child has an allergy/allergic condition book they would like to share perhaps ask the teacher if they can read this book to the class today (ideally this is organised ahead of time, teachers generally go back a day or two before term starts so you could send an email about it now). If you can go with two parents that is great it means one of you can have a chat with the teacher while the other settles in your child. If not just chat to the teacher with your child in tow. Keep it very positive, friendly and calm so your child sees that it is going to be fine.
To ban or not to ban – this can be controversial both in general and in the allergy community. That is whether or not allergens should be banned from the home, from the school, from planes. All schools and families have different policies and that is ok. We thought we would just make a couple of points. Firstly if your child’s allergen isn’t present in your home they are less use to seeing the allergen and may not deal with it on a daily basis. This makes allergy education and preparation key. Talk about all the different foods the allergen can be found in, that other kids may be eating and the steps they need to take to keep themselves safe (handwashing, not sharing food and so on). Also please note that a ban at the school does not mean the allergen won’t be present, your child still needs to know what to look for, not to share, handwashing and to speak to the teacher if they don’t feel well.
A note about arts and crafts supplies – depending on your child’s allergies arts and craft supplies can be a source of allergens, they can contain dairy, egg, wheat, soy and other allergens. e.g. some paints are egg based, playdough contains wheat. If you haven’t already spoken to the school about arts and crafts it is probably worth sending an email now. As I mentioned they will be back a couple of days before school starts. Mention your child’s allergy and potential arts and crafts products that could contain allergens. Again go into the conversation knowing how you would like this approached and how you can help.
Best of luck with the new school year! We hope it goes amazingly well and your little ones settle in and have a wonderful time at school!
Always remember we are here to help. If you want to chat to someone about managing allergies at school, email us to book in a chat with our family support officer. If you or your child are experiencing anxiety (problems sleeping, panic attacks, avoidance of situations or foods, excessive worry, irritability, racing thoughts) over the thought of the new school year please get in touch, we are here to help. If you aren’t in WA get in touch and we will help you find the right resources for you and your family.