How do you keep kids with food allergies safe when they’re away from home? Dropping your child off at school, daycare, or camp means that you are giving up control over what food your child comes in contact with. Here are five things you can do to keep your child safe when out of your sight.
1. Create an Emergency Action Plan
An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) outlines the people who need to be contacted in case of an emergency reaction, when and how different medications should be administered, and other details of handling your child’s reactions.
Make multiple copies of your EAP – for your child’s teacher, school nurse, doctor, and any other caregivers, including grandparents or other family members. Put one in your child’s First Aid kit with your child’s Epi-Pen. Keep one for yourself.
Your school may have its own EAP form that you will need to fill out. If not, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has a downloadable sample EAP in multiple languages. FAAN suggests attaching a photo of your child to the form.
2. Work With Your Child's Caregivers
The most important step in assuring your child’s safety at school, camp or daycare is establishing an open, trusting relationship with your child’s caregivers. Food allergies can be scary for teachers as well as parents, and sometimes fear can play out as conflict.
To avoid conflict, meet with your child’s teacher(s) and the head of your child’s school before the first day of school. Work with the school team to come up with a plan that accommodates your child’s needs at school, on the bus, and at extracurricular activities.
An EAP will remain just a piece of paper if the people responsible for your child don’t understand it. Talk to everyone who is responsible for your child about your child’s specific needs and her EAP. Invite questions.
3. Teach Your Child To Say No (Thank You)
The bank teller hands your child a lollipop. At the grocery store, there is a sample cart at the end of every aisle. How do you reaction-proof your child when he is surrounded by people trying to give him food?
Depending on the severity of your child’s allergies and your comfort level, you may want to establish a “no food from outside of the home” policy, or you may decide to teach your child to check with you before accepting anything.
One of the most powerful things you can teach your child is to just say “No, thanks,” when offered a treat.
4. Teach Your Child to Recognize Trigger Foods
A 2006 study found that 27 percent of allergic children could not identify the nut to which they were allergic when shown examples of different nuts.
Teach your child to recognize her trigger foods. If your child is allergic to dairy, for example, teach her to recognize a glass of milk, a piece of cheese, an ice cream cone, and any baked good from an unknown source as a trigger food.
If you are concerned about exposing your child to her trigger while teaching her about it, you can show her photographs of the food or foods. Read a magazine together and point out pictures of her trigger foods.
5. Use Allergy Safety Products
If your child has severe food allergies, he should wear a medical bracelet or shoe tag at all times. Medic Alert is a nonprofit registration service that emergency personnel can call for information about your child.
Other products that can make keeping your child safe easier are:
- Lunch boxes or bags labeled “Food Allergy.”
- T-shirts or stickers, such as ones that read “Don’t feed me, I have food allergies.”
- Temporary tattoos with allergy warnings (created for surgery, but fun at other times)
- Car seat emergency labels, such as those made by the WHALE program.
- Educational materials, such as Beyond a Peanut Flash Cards.