Back to school with food allergies: how can you prepare?

Back to school

Back to school with food allergies: how can you prepare?

It’s a scary time in any parent’s life: when your child goes off to school. Whether they’re just starting primary or are moving up to secondary school, you can’t help but feel this anxiety. Will they be okay? Will they do well? And will they make friends? All completely understandable concerns.

But if your child has an allergy, that’s a whole new level of stress. Not only are you worrying about the above, but now you have to face the prospect of letting your child head into an environment you can’t control. It’s something you can’t avoid. There is a silver lining, though. You can be proactive. Here’s our advice for managing your child’s allergies as they head back to school.

Talk to the school ahead of time

Your best first move is to let the school know that your child has an allergy. Yes, even if they’ve been going there for a few years already, it’s still best to check in every September. The school will have a duty of care to look after your child. The Children and Families Act 2014 makes it a legal requirement for them to make arrangements for pupils with medical conditions – and that includes allergies.

Talking to them allows you to get on the same page. What are your concerns? How do they address them? Ask about their allergy policy and what their response is to an allergic reaction. This conversation may also involve school nurses and catering staff, especially if your child has a food allergy.

Talk to your child

Depending on their age, there’s a good chance your child already knows how to handle their allergy – at least partly. They’re going to have to be responsible for themselves, so the more you can equip them with knowledge, the better.

For younger kids, it’s about making sure they know which foods (or other allergens) make them sick and to avoid them. No trading snacks or accepting food they don’t know. It’s also important you explain why – you don’t have to go into all the worst details, but they should know that “X food = sick”.

Older kids are more likely to be aware of their allergies, but they’re also at that age where identity is important to them. What teenagers want is to feel in control of their lives, especially when they have an allergy that holds them back. So work with them to come up with a plan. Give them some control in how they manage their condition.

What happens to their adrenaline auto-injector (AAI)?

Each school will have its own policy in how it handles any AAI. In fact, they should have a tailored allergy plan for each child with the condition. And that will involve the question of what to do with AAIs.

There are two concerns for you here: location and staff training. Where are the AAIs stored? And how long will it take for them to reach your child in an emergency? Anything longer than 5 minutes is a no go, so make sure it’s closer than that. Older kids may be allowed to carry their own on their person. 

In regards to staff training, you’ll want to know who is capable of administering the AAI in case of an attack. If the school doesn’t have someone, make sure they work on getting a teacher or member of staff qualified before term starts.

Controlling food

It’s hard to talk about allergies without specifically mentioning food allergies. They’re common and can lead to some of the most fatal reactions. This is why you want to talk to the catering staff at the school. They should be required to make reasonable adjustments for certain pupils, so ask what their policy on food allergens is. How do they mitigate risk?

If their answers don’t fill you with confidence, consider packed lunches. It’s much easier to control. Talk to the school about potentially setting up a lunch buddy system so your child can eat at a table with students that have allergy-safe food.

Will this remove your anxiety? Likely not – nothing ever will. But will it at least make you feel more prepared? Absolutely. These are proactive steps you can take to make sure your child is as safe as can be. It’s a difficult time, but one you can get through together.

If you need more advice and strategies for managing your child’s allergies, get in touch with our experts today. You can register as a new patient or simply call us on 02031 433 449.

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