As August turns into September every school-aged child begins to think, and probably worry about, if their friends will still be friends, if the course material will be too challenging, if their teachers will be nice, or if they’ll make that sports team they’ve been planning on trying out for.
However, for kids with food allergies, those concerns only add to the other concerns they’re having. They’re wondering if everyone in their class knows not to bring peanut products, if the lunchroom staff knows they can’t have eggs or gluten, if the teachers know that rewarding with food treats can be life threatening, or if the other children will make fun of them for not being able to eat the same foods. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education website, more than 15% of school-aged children with food allergies have had an allergic reaction at school. These reactions can range anywhere from mild to fatal. It’s a serious concern and awareness is essential.
So, how do we help those kids with food allergies? We have to make teachers, parents, and other students aware of the dangers and how they can help be part of a solution.
Here are a few tips:
• Classrooms can be food-free
It might be the easiest route to just keep all food out of the classroom. That way, no one has to worry or think about what’s allowed in and what’s restricted.
• Restrict Identified Allergens from Classrooms
If snacks aren’t taken out of the classrooms completely, it needs to be well-known by all students, teachers, and parents which foods are dangerous allergens. Those foods must be restricted from snacks, parties, or other activities.
• Find Fun and Inclusive Ways to Celebrate
It’s a wonderful gesture to bring treats and snacks into the classroom for parties and holidays, but that gesture can marginalize or be dangerous to some kids. Instead, try extra recess or celebrate with games and free-time.
• Educate Your Kids
Inclusion and acceptance can go a long way in helping any child adapt. If everyone knows that there are just some foods that are dangerous for their classmates, understanding and recognition can happen.
• Seek out Resources
In addition to explaining to kids about food allergies, find activities, resources, videos, or testimonials to share with children in, and out of the classroom. If the ideas are delivered in a fun and inclusive manner, children are more likely to respond to that information.
All-in-all, excluding foods from the classroom as opposed to excluding children from participating in activities is the best way to handle food allergies at school. Kids with food allergies will have their own emergency plans and their parents will have discussed with staff and teachers what to do in the event of a reaction. In order to ensure everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow, and enjoy school, allergen awareness is critical. Remember, safety isn’t a privilege, it’s a fundamental right to every child in every classroom.