As your child grows, so does their understanding of food allergies. It is important that your child is well equipped to communicate food allergies to friends and teachers, and to be able to identify the foods they are allergic to. That is why Neocate offers tips and resources created by experienced Accredited Practicing Dietitians for these important milestones in your child’s life. We can also help you, as the parent, be prepared for your child’s first day of school, or their first play date away from home.
Planning for the first day of school
The first day of school is an exciting time for young children. Introducing a child with food allergies into a new environment, however, can be a little scary for parents. If this situation is one you’ll be facing soon, it is important to be prepared. Prevention is always better than a cure.
The risks can be best managed by working together with your child’s school to design a management plan for your child. If the strategies from this plan are implemented and the staff has the right education then the risks of an allergic reaction are minimised1. If an accident does occur, this education will also make sure that the staff know how to manage the situation and use an adrenaline auto injector (if needed).
The following steps can help make the transition to a new environment a safe one for your child.
- Schedule a check-up with your pediatrician or allergist before the first day2.
This is the perfect opportunity to make sure that your child’s current Action Plan is still effective (see more on this in point 2). This appointment will also ensure that you can provide the most up to date medical information to the staff at the school. Your child’s healthcare team will ask the right questions to make sure you’re prepared.
- Obtain an up to date Action Plan from your child’s doctor2.
All children with food allergies should have an Action Plan for Anaphylaxis (for children prescribed an adrenaline auto injector) or Action Plan for Food Allergy (for those not prescribed an adrenaline auto injector) completed by their doctor. This written document includes an identification photo of your child plus contact details for yourself (the parent) and your child’s doctor. The form outlines your child’s allergic triggers, the first aid response and any medications.
- Meet face to face with the school principal2.
Notify the school about your child’s allergy as early as possible1. Provide specific details regarding what your child is allergic to. This is also the opportunity to discuss strategies to reduce the risks for your child. Provide the principal with a copy of your child’s Action Plan. You can also assist them by providing details on where to access training and further information1.
- Work with the school to develop a management plan1.
Ensure that all staff are aware of allergy prevention strategies and that these strategies are implemented. For children that suffer from severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) make sure that the staff at the school are trained in the recognition, management and emergency treatment of anaphylaxis. This includes regular practice using an adrenaline auto injector.
- Enquire about potential risks1.
Each state in Australia has guidelines regarding how to manage anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions) in schools3. Check with the school if they are aware of these guidelines and what preventative measures they currently have in place.
- Supply the school with your child’s medication (if necessary)1.
If your child has been prescribed an adrenaline auto injector (AAI) make sure this is kept with a copy of your child’s Action Plan for Anaphylaxis. All medications should be stored in an easily accessible spot, out of direct sunlight. It should also be clearly labelled with your child’s details. Keep a record of when your child’s AAI is due to expire so you can provide replacements before this happens.
- Teach your child to only eat food provided by you (their parents) from home2.
Provide your child with a safe lunch box that is clearly labelled. Educate your child about not sharing or swapping food with their friends
- Plan ahead for special occasions where food is shared or food allergens are present2.
If there is a special cultural event or birthday party where food is shared, speak with the school about bringing from home an allergen free treat for your child. It is also important to discuss the use of certain food allergens in arts and crafts class, like the use of egg cartons (for children with an egg allergy) or playdough (for children with a wheat allergy).
How to create a safe environment at school
Educating other children about your child’s food allergy is one of the key steps to creating a safe environment at school. This can be done by your child or their teacher, or you may find it helpful to go and talk to the class4. Children are naturally inquisitive so will want to know more about why your child must avoid certain foods. The best way to approach this is usually to discuss food allergies in an open manner4. Providing schools with information on food allergy and anaphylaxis can be one way to increase understanding of food allergy5. With this information, teachers can include allergy education in their lesson plans and promote an understanding environment amongst other students.
Teachers can also help by ensuring other children do not share food with your child2. Some schools have a no food sharing policies in place5. This means that all children, not just those with allergies, eat only their own food. If the school does not have this type of policy, encourage the implementation of one.
The school canteen should also be aware of your child’s food allergy5. If your child will be buying food from the canteen, organise a visit or volunteer so you can see firsthand the foods they offer and how these foods are prepared. Some parents will choose to not allow their children to purchase food from the canteen. This can be enforced by providing the canteen with a photo of your child and a notice to not provide food to this child, to be put on the canteen wall. Obviously, this would need to be updated as your child’s needs change.
Plan ahead for special days like excursions or sports trips. Make sure the teacher carries an emergency medical kit and that they carry a mobile phone to contact help in the case of an emergency5. It may help to meet with the teacher a few days prior to the trip to discuss the details and any concerns you may have. Make sure you provide your child with extra packed lunch items on the day and re-enforce the importance of not sharing food with others.
Creating an understanding of food allergies at school will help your child feel safe and secure4. It will also help other children to appreciate why your child can’t participate in certain activities or share food. It is best if this learning starts from an early age so your child can grow up, confident in dealing with and talking about their food allergy4. Also, as children get older, their friends can be a great source of support if they understand your child’s condition4.
Allergy-Friendly Play Dates
Play dates can be a challenge for families of children with food allergies. Here are some of our tips to help plan an allergy-safe play date. Keep in mind these tips can be used for both older and younger children.
- Make play date cards. A play date card is a card you give to the adult in charge of a play date with important information. There are lots of different templates for play date cards available online, as well as the Allergy Card on the Neocate Village App.
- Bring your own snacks (for the whole group). Create your own allergen-free snacks so that your little one and their play date guests can all enjoy snack time together. For allergy friendly recipe ideas, visit the recipe section of Neocate Village.
- Create a caregiver book. Prepare a ring binder with all of your child’s food allergy and medical information. Having this information all in one place will make it easy to find in an emergency. You should consider including:
- a list of food allergens and ingredients to avoid
- a list of contacts and phone numbers in case of an emergency
- instructions for your child’s adrenaline auto-injector
- medication schedules
- allergy-friendly recipes, etc.
- Consider inviting parents, too. For very young children who aren’t used to being away from mum or dad, and even for older kids making their first visit to another family’s home, consider making play dates a family affair. Invite the other parent (or caregiver) to join you for coffee and chat while the kids play. Many kids need to work up to the “drop-off” play date, and many parents are wary of leaving their children in the home of someone they don’t know very well. Having a parent come along on a play date the first time will give you time to speak with the other parents, get to know them better, and educate them on your child’s food allergy.
An allergy card can also be created using the Neocate Village App and shared with any friends and family who may look after your child from time to time.
Communication is the most important part in ensuring that your child’s play dates are both safe and fun. The best thing to do may be to ask the host in advance ‘What do you need from me?’.
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. 2015. Parent 10 point plan for school. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Viewed 7 July 2016. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/living-with-the-risk/life-stages/5-12-years
- 2015. ASCIA guidelines for prevention of anaphylaxis in schools, preschools and child care: 2015 update. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. Viewed 6 July 2016. http://www.allergy.org.au/health-professionals/papers/prevent-anaphylaxis-in-schools-childcare
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. 2016. Schooling and Childcare. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Viewed 7 July 2016. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/how-to-manage/schooling-childcare
- Allergy UK. 2013. Starting School. British Allergy Foundation. Viewed 8 July 2016. https://www.allergyuk.org/living-with-allergy/starting-school
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. 2016. 5-12 years. Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Viewed 8 July 2016. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/living-with-the-risk/life-stages/5-12-years