Although my anxiety surrounding my 4 year old son’s severe peanut allergy has gotten a lot better over the last few years, I’m still feeling nervous about sending him off to kindergarten this fall.
After all, as a classroom teacher, I’ve personally seen kids bring in lunches with peanut butter sandwiches and granola bars with peanuts – into a school that’s supposed to be nut-free.
Teachers and lunchtime supervisors do their best, but they aren’t the food police. That’s why I’ve been preparing my son to be aware and to look out for himself.
In case you’re in a similar position, I wanted to share some ways that I’ve been preparing him to be safe at school this year. I figure the more ideas and information we share with each other – the more safe our kids will be!
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about things that parents can do to help ensure their child’s safety at school – and included a printable list of questions to ask school administrators and teachers. You can find that post here.
Today, I’m sharing 5 things that I’ve been working on with my son at home that I hope will help keep him safe. I hope you find my list helpful and I’d LOVE to hear in the comments if you’d add anything to it!
5 Ideas to Prepare Your Allergic Child
1. Hand Washing 101
After finding mystery chocolate smeared all over my son’s hands after a swing ride at the local playground, I realized how important hand-washing was going to be for him in preventing possible allergic reactions.
We’ve been working on making it a habit to wash hands when we come back into the house after being out and about, as well as before we eat.
It’s not only important for allergic reasons, but great for germ control!
Although hand sanitizer may take care of germs, it doesn’t remove residues of allergens – so we’ve never used it at our house.
Instead, we have focused on using plain soap and water, but washing thoroughly, between fingers, and on the backs of the hands.
My son got a kick out of seeing this poster at the Ontario Science Center – don’t forget those thumbs everyone!
Do you have any tricks for making hand-washing fun?
2. Practising Words to Decline Unsafe Foods
We’re still working on this one. Just the other day at the barbershop Onetime was offered a lollypop after his haircut, and he just stood there frozen in indecision.
After waiting a bit to see how he’d respond, I eventually jumped in and said “No thanks, he’s allergic,” for him. But we’ll keep practising!
The wonderful book No Thank You, I’m Allergic: A Story About Food Allergy Awareness gave us this simple sentence idea and Onetime really enjoyed reading it.
What words are you teaching your child to say?
3. Carrying Medication
We started practising this one 3 months before school starts.Until then, I had always carried Onetime’s Epipens in my purse, or passed them off in a pouch to his daycare workers.
On the recommendation of a friend and after lots of online searching and price comparisons, we got a really cool Epipen holder that can carry 1 or 2 Epipens.
It is really small, comes in lots of cool colours, and has a belt to wear around the waist. (We use the Kids SPIbelt No-Bounce Belt.)
Onetime has been wearing it this summer, and when we return home, he keeps it stored in his running shoes so he can’t forget to put it on before we leave the house (Great idea Dad!).
Some kids may be able to skip this step if they’ve already had a few reactions and are familiar with how their body feels when they’re exposed to their allergen.
My son’s only reaction happened when he was barely 2 and he doesn’t really remember too much about it now other than the exciting ambulance ride. (You can read more about our experience here in D is for Dauntless: Living with Peanut Allergy).
I wanted him to at least be familiar with some of the common symptoms of an allergic reaction, so that he could communicate to a teacher or adult if he was experiencing any of these things.
We found it helpful to use this poster available for sale on Anaphylaxis Canada’s website to chat.
It talks about the 4 different areas that may be affected in a reaction: the face, airway, stomach and total body. It’s also great for purchasing for your child’s school.
5. Quizzing Understandings
Lastly, I’ve come up with some safety scenarios that I’ve personally seen happen at school, or that I’ve heard about from friends with allergies.
For example, last fall, my friend who has two children with severe food allergies, got quite a scare when she found out her kids had eaten some Halloween candy offered from friends at school – so I included that in my scenarios. Don’t worry – the kids were both okay!
All of the scenarios are posed like a question with a few possibilities for responses. Depending on the age and maturity of your child, the “right” answer and response may differ.
The value in discussing these scenarios is not to make sure your child has all the “right answers,” but to get them thinking about how they might handle difficult situations – and to stimulate discussions about safety.
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I hope you find these helpful! Please let me know if you have any other scenarios that I could add to this list. I love to hear your comments, ideas and advice! Leave a comment below.
All the best,