Responsibility With Age: Have Your Child Teach About Food Allergies
As a parent of a food allergic child, most of my time is spent attending to the physical and mental necessities of caring for a child with food allergies. Sometimes we can forget that the psychosocial health of a child is just as important.
Toward the end of fourth grade year, we began to prepare our son for the increased independence of middle school (6th grade). In doing so, we started with lunch – it was time to relinquish the ‘Tony Soprano’ lunch table set up that he benefitted from since second grade.
The ‘Tony Soprano’ lunch set up is a tip of the hat to my Italian heritage where a food allergy safe desk surface is placed at the head of a lunch table allowing him to sit with his friends of choice, rather than at the food allergy table. For our son, this removed the worry and pressure of lobbying daily for a friend to agree to sit at the food allergy table with him. He very much disliked having to ask someone every day to sit with him; made him feel like he had to beg people to sit with him.
Transitioning to the regular lunch table would undoubtedly cause some chatter amongst his classmates who had grown accustomed to his seating arrangement. To avoid our son from being inundated with questions, his teacher made an announcement to the class, portraying it as exciting news that he taking on more responsibility. As part of the announcement, his teacher also laid out some ground rules for appropriate lunch table behavior for those choosing to sit around Vincent.
- Respect (insert child’s name) lunch space.
- Do not touch (insert child’s name) food.
- Keep your hands to yourself.
- Be careful to not spill anything on the table.
One aspect that needs special attention as a child grows older and more independent is the child’s ability to talk about his/her food allergies with confidence, and with absolutely no shame or embarrassment. This is why it’s so important for a child to be able to talk and teach about food allergies.
Noticing that our son was hesitant to speak openly about his food allergies, we decided it was important to help boost his self-assurance and self-confidence by providing opportunities to speak about his food allergies.
After practicing with us, a few days later our son gave the following talk to his class and teach about food allergies.
I’d like to tell you about my food allergies. Food allergies are when your body sees certain foods as an enemy and has an allergic reaction, which is called anaphylaxis.
I was diagnosed with my food allergies when I was 11-months old. I’m allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame.
Starting in fourth grade, I started to take more ownership in caring for my food allergies. As I grow each year, I take on new responsibilities in preparation for middle school. For example this year, I started to carry my own medicine pack, or what I call my medpack.
I carry a medicine pack in case I have an allergic reaction that can happen if I touch, eat or inhale one of my allergens.
I’d like to ask for your help in four ways:
- If you make a mess while eating your snack, please clean up your area with the available wipes in the classroom. Also, wash your hands after snack.
- Please respect my space at the lunch table and be sure to not touch my food.
- Please respect my food allergies and me by not teasing or bullying me about my food allergies. When I’m teased or bullied about my food allergies it makes me feel sad, very frustrated and not liked because I can’t do anything about having food allergies.
- If you see me with a rash, swelling, difficulty breathing, please know that I am not fooling around. Tell a teacher or adult near me immediately. My food allergies are very severe and when I’m having an allergic reaction it mean s a trip to the hospital and even worse, and I hate to say it, but I could die from them. It’s just the way it is.
I want to thank each of you for your attention and for being a good friend to me. Know that you can always have a friend in me as well.
Does anyone have any questions?
Since there are different students in his class each year, this presentation is given on an annual basis. Our son’s classmates have responded positively; asking questions and even watching out for him.
Not every child is going to relish presenting to a class initially. Start with family, friends and neighbors, so that the audience feels safe and encouraging. By the time a child presents to a class, he/she will feel like a food allergy expert.
We are happy to report that this year, our son entered middle school and thus far it has been a very successful year with receptive and respectful students and school staff. We attribute much of this to our son’s willingness to educate others about his food allergies as well as a thorough food allergy 504 Plan.
Parents, please feel free to use this tool with your child.
If you’re a childcare provider, please pass this along to your food allergy families who can put this tidbit in their tool kit for future use.
School representatives…feel free to utilize this with your food allergy families. This is definitely something that a principal, social worker, school nurse or teacher can discuss implementing in partnership and agreement from parents who have a child with food allergies. Perhaps adding it to your Anaphylaxis Questionnaire* can help expedite this process.
*An Anaphylaxis Questionnaire is a letter sent to all to parents of students with life-threatening food allergies at the beginning of each school year, to assist schools in planning for any necessary adjustments in a student’s school day.
Have a tip to share with me? I’d love to hear it! Please post a comment.