Responsibility With Age: Have Your Child Teach About Food Allergies

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.

  1. Respect (insert child’s name) lunch space.
  2. Do not touch (insert child’s name) food.
  3. Keep your hands to yourself.
  4. 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.

Responsibility With Age: Have Your Child Teach About Food Allergies

Hi Everyone.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Please respect my space at the lunch table and be sure to not touch my food.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

What To Do When Your 504 Plan is Violated

We’re here to talk about the difficult challenge of what to do when your 504 plan is violated. Even after all of the best food allergy management planning, expect to have a snag or two. Most issues are misunderstandings or miscommunications and are easily fixed by an email, telephone call or short meeting with the teacher, principal and/or 504 coordinator. Remember to stay the collaborative and creative parent you are, and partner to resolve these types of issues.

On the other hand, when your child’s specified accommodation is not received on a consistent and conscientious basis, then a more direct and formal approach is necessary. What might a violation look like? Perhaps your teacher is having your child sit out in the hall during snack time. Maybe unsafe curriculum projects are continuously being used in the classroom without notice or accommodation. It could be that a student, teacher or school staff member is repeatedly harassing your child about his/her food allergies.

No matter what has transpired in a 504 violation, it’s a terrifying and angering experience simply because your child is at his/her most vulnerable outside of your care. In addition, it is always our hope that adults will behave as mature and responsible individuals, and when that doesn’t happen, it creates a mistrust that is not easily rebuilt.

Top 10 Tips for What to Do When Your 504 Plan is Violated Continue reading

A School Year of Firsts, Friends and Love

As another school year ends, I look fondly back on a year of firsts. First time my beautiful boy was away from me all day. First time being at school for lunch. First time traveling to various specialists’ classrooms. And…first time having to trust a group of people to watch out for and care for my precious son all day. I have such conflicted feelings as the school year comes to a close…happy that it was a GREAT year, and sad as some of our connections end.

I’ve always believed that people enter our lives and change the very fiber of our being, no matter how long or short their stay may be. For a food allergy Mom, there’s nothing sweeter than the heartfelt connections made. I feel equally humbled and blessed to have such a memorable first year, completely attributed to the friendships created.

As many of you may know, my father passed away this past Christmas. It was truly an end of an era since I have now buried both of my parents at the age of 43. It’s difficult to let a cloud set in when you have two sets of eyes staring at you on the stage of life. My boys depend on me to be my silly self. For my Christmas gift, my husband and boys selected a simple cord necklace that read: BLESSED. My husband told me it’s how he feels everyday and how I should feel as well, and I do, I am very blessed. Little did I know that the necklace would come in handy when saying thank you and goodbye to some of our friends. Continue reading

Rethinking Our Food Philosophy

Parents of food allergic kiddos are always on the fast track for learning. We learn about our child’s personal wants and desires and how it relates to food. We learn about how society, i.e., school, sport groups, friends, family, etc., deal with food allergies both in a positive and negative way. Last but certainly not least, we as parents learn about ourselves: how to refocus our approach to food, how we best partner with others; how we too need emotional support and how to dig deep and find our own strength. I applaud everyone who cares for allergic children with compassion and grace, because it’s sometimes difficult to keep a smile on our face, while supporting the promotion of partnership with others.

Last year was my son’s first year of school, half-day kindergarten. It taught me a lot about how to communicate, educate and partner with others regarding food allergies. I wore many hats last year: the food allergy guru, the snack planner, the soiree architect, the 504 educator, the allergy-safe frosting maker, the heartsick Mom and, more often times than not, the very happy Mom.

During this, I realized something…we as a society have to rethink our food philosophy. We socialize with it. We celebrate with it. We reward with it. We craft with it. I don’t think we know how much we use food as an activity. As you know, food so often is an activity in which our allergic kiddos cannot participate.

It’s so easy to plan a party where food is used as the activity to pass time: making a sundae treat, building a gingerbread house or opening a bakery box full of cupcakes the size of your head. I think many fail to realize that our eating and interaction with food is mindless. It takes real ingenuity to come up with activities that create memories with one another. In the broader scheme of things, isn’t that what we are trying to do? Plan a fun event, foster camaraderie and create a memory.

While attending my son’s first grade 504 meeting a month ago, I learned that the school decided to instate a new food policy:

New Food Policy
Due to a growing number of students with food allergies and the increased concern with overall nutrition of children Kimberly Lane has decided to adopt a new school-wide policy.

NO LONGER WILL WE ALLOW ANY FOOD ITEMS SERVED IN THE CLASSROOM FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. This includes birthdays, holidays and other celebrations. The risk of accidental ingestion of allergens is just too great. We have learned that some food items may have cross-contamination.

We recognize the joy of celebrating birthdays and would suggest alternative treats such as pencils or bookmarks. Another option would be a book donation to our library in honor of your child’s birthday. On our website are details on how you could do this.

The only food served in the classroom will be mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks that students bring from home. All snacks from home must be free of peanuts, tree nuts and other allergens that are life threatening to Kimberly Lane students. More details on acceptable snacks may be sent home from your child’s classroom.

Here’s the Gist
This new policy brought me back to what I had been saying and mulling over for the past year: are we creating true moments, true memories with our children when we use food as the focus? What is the message that we send our children with regard to food? I think this new policy only solidifies my belief that creating a memory has to be inclusive in order to be successful.

Our school ceased celebrating Christmas years ago because many students are from other religious backgrounds. This thinking falls right in line with the food philosophy, many students cannot participate, so why have it as a focal point of celebrations.

I cannot thank the administrators at my son’s school for forging ahead and establishing this new policy. I’m very glad to know that food’s focus will be about living while activities become fun and memory making for all.

Life is full of moments. Sometimes we never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. What kind of memory do you want to have?

Food Allergy Safety is Not Optional: It’s a Right!

It was just another day in the life of a food allergy Mom. The day was beautiful, 75-degree weather, not too hot and not too cool. In fact, Goldilocks would have said it was a ‘just right’ day.

As I do everyday, I drove my son to afternoon kindergarten and as I approached the school parking lot there were children scattered across the front lawn eating their lunches. The lunchroom monitors were collectively chatting, not dispersed amongst the sea of kiddos.

Because food allergies are second nature to me, as with all allergy parents, my mind quickly ran to the safety issues. I wondered; do the children that eat at the peanut-free table have a peanut-free section on the lawn? I went about my business and took my son to his classroom and shrugged it off for the day, except for sharing it with my husband during dinner hour.

A few days passed where the weather wasn’t as cooperative so lunches were back in the cafeteria. We then had another break in the weather. I arrived as usual and was presented with the same situation. This time, as I walked to the entrance of the school, and passed the children eagerly eating, I saw a boy snap his drink vertically in the air so that the contents showered over everyone around him. Since my son is topically allergic to milk products, my mind raced to how that could affect him. I have no idea what the content of his drink was. My thought, people need to understand that food, for those that are allergic, is a weapon if you have life-threatening food allergies. Continue reading

Prepare for Your Allergic Child’s Entrance to School

Hello Everyone!

I’m teaching a class at Linden Hills Coop on Saturday, March 31, 2012, from 10 a.m. – noon on preparing for school with food allergies. Whether your child is entering kindergarten in the fall or a subsequent grade, learn how to partner with your school to establish a comprehensive 504, IHP and emergency plan all while encouraging food-free celebrations, activities and curriculums.

To register or learn more, check out this link: Preparing for School with Food Allergies

I hope to see you there!

Kristin

What Kind of Community Do You Want to Live In?

After a holiday, gingerbread project in my son’s kindergarten class, my husband and I decided we want to switch from an Individual Healthcare Plan (IHP or IHCP) to a 504 Plan for our multiple food allergic son. My one-on-one meeting with the school’s 504 coordinator was scheduled for this past Thursday. Coincidentally, my meeting was in the very same week that Amarria Johnson, a 7-year-old girl from Chesterfield County, Virginia, died from an allergic reaction to peanuts. Needless to say, it was a very stressful and emotional week.

Quite simply, my heart aches for Amarria’s mother, family, the innocent student that gave her the peanut, the school representatives involved, etc. Amaria’s death means something…it should cause us all to reflect…it should tell us that no one is immune, me, you, the school, even the parents of non-allergic children, etc. We all fail in some way at keeping our allergic children safe.

Before moving forward, I should step back and explain my son’s gingerbread project. Every year, the kindergarten class makes a gingerbread house before holiday break. As you can imagine, it consists of a vast array of allergy-ridden products i.e., a small ‘washed’ milk carton is used as the frame for the house, graham crackers are hot glued to the carton, a homemade, egg white frosting plus all the decorations of candy, chocolate chips, pretzels, etc. top the “fun” activity ~ “because this is what we have done every year.” Continue reading