FOOD ALLERGIES ARE THE NEW ‘STRANGER DANGER’

I am ashamed to admit that I was indeed one of “those” teachers, who was definitely aware of kids having food allergies, but I certainly wasn’t too concerned about the topic. I was more bothered by the fact that if I said or did the wrong thing regarding these so-called “risky foods” then I would be harassed by those dreaded over-protective “helicopter parents.” I admit this now with a great deal of shame at my own ignorance back then. cindy smith lizard learning food allergies for children

So you can imagine the irony when it was confirmed that my daughter Ava has an allergy to both peanuts and eggs. And with that discovery, came a whole new way of living for all of us. It wasn’t as straightforward as simply not feeding Ava peanut butter sandwiches and boiled eggs. If only that were the case! I quickly discovered exactly how many products contain eggs and traces of peanuts, and unfortunately, some of those discoveries were made the hard way! To be more specific, a rushed journey to the hospital – just what every parent dreads. For example, did you know that pretzels and some baking powder contain eggs? How about hamburgers, meat loaf, ice cream, cheesecake, donuts, spinach pie, marshmallows? And, of course, just to make my life more complicated, then there are also chemical names for eggs, hidden away on the ingredients list of food items, such as albumin, ovalbumin, flavoproteins, livetin, lysosyme, glaze, ovglycoprotein, ovomucoid, ovomuxoid. And it seems almost everything “may have come into contact with peanuts.” Grocery shopping had suddenly turned from “popping into the store” into a major mission for me.

Now of course, this above stressful scenario is presented only from a personal “at home” point of view. But Ava also visits other people’s homes, as well as daycare. Of course, as she gets older, the number of places Ava visits (without her Mum) will increase. She will be in a classroom every week day, probably surrounded by items in other children’s lunch boxes that could potentially kill her. How can I, as her Mum, be 100% confident that she won’t encounter an innocent looking food item, and then end up in hospital? This topic is actually a very serious discussion that should (and will) cover many separate blog posts in the future, as it’s such an important one for today’s teachers and parents.

Now, remember I am here discussing this topic from both sides of the fence. As both a school teacher who has had food allergic children in my classroom, and also as the parent of a child with food allergies. Speaking from both sides of the issue, it is absolutely the responsibility of both parents and teachers to stay aware, informed and ensure that children with food allergies are kept safe.

Parents of Primary school children should advise both the Principal, and the child’s class teacher about his/her food allergies in writing. Be specific as possible (name all of the foods that contain the item that is problematic – eg include meat loaf for an egg allergy, etc). It is also expected that the parents of affected children give their child as much age-appropriate information as possible, and be consistent about it. Remind your child constantly to never accept or offer their own lunch and snacks with their classmates.

All teachers are obliged to educate themselves about food allergies of all kinds. If your school does not offer any informative material about it, then actively seek it out yourself online – there is plenty of quality information available. It is YOUR responsibility to communicate with all parents/guardians at the start of the school year to introduce yourself to the parents, and use this opportunity to find out if their child has any known food allergy, and if so, what it is. Educate yourself about allergy symptoms; ensure the necessary phone numbers (ambulance, child’s parents, etc) are on hand. Make sure all of this information is also communicated with relief teachers and the school Principal, administration staff at the office and the school nurse if there is one at your school.

Consider short and fun lesson plans around food allergies so that all children are aware of this burgeoning problem. Include lots of interactive activities and make sure to stress the message that there is nothing wrong or abnormal about having a food allergy. It’s just another difference some of us are born with, such as having curly hair.

At lunchtime, remind your class to eat their own lunch, never to share it with others, as well as never sharing their drinking bottles and to wash their hands after (as well as before) lunch.

This is an issue that ALL teachers (especially of primary school children, as these kids are less responsible for themselves) need to take seriously. It is right up there, perhaps even more prevalent, than “stranger danger”, and should be treated as such.

Ava does, and will continue to, live a very full and happy life. I personally ensure that there is nothing she misses out on during her childhood, although sometimes we need a little more preparation or modifications to address her unique disposition. Remember – all children are unique. I personally would not wish Ava to be anything other than the delightful little angel she is!

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