A Conversation You Must Have Before Your Child Starts School
For some parents, it can be a real concern when their child goes off to school, moving from a nursery where they’d spent time building relationships and working through problems with staff, finally comfortable they had a good handle of your child’s needs and rhythms, and security that they got the close attention they needed. Both you and the nursery have worked so hard to reach this point of happy equilibrium. Now you have to start all over again from scratch?!
Deep down, we know it’s an important milestone for our kids, and that children need to eventually become more independent, they have to start understanding their allergies more, and start speaking up for themselves. But it doesn’t quieten the growing anxiety and incessant self-questioning… Will the school understand their allergies? Will they be able to manage them? What if my child has a reaction and I’m not there?
After finally figuring nursery out, it can feel deflating to go back to square one with a new school, but it actual fact, you’re far from it. You’re bringing with you all the knowledge of processes that work, all the little problems and surprises that you went through are now more expected and planned for, and you’ve built the emotional skills to negotiate this new challenge with much more confidence and experience than when your child first started nursery.
It suddenly becomes so important that your child goes to the ‘right’ school. One that is accommodating, communicative, and you feel like you could work with as a team. With COVID-19 restrictions, this task becomes even harder. Now it’s near impossible to look around schools and get a face-to-face meeting to see if you feel comfortable. However, arranging a video call with key members of staff to talk through your child’s needs can be an excellent substitute.
I want to assure you that just because a school hasn’t had to make adaption to cater for your child’s allergy in the past, it doesn’t mean they can’t. If they are willing to learn, understand and get training and advice to support them, of course, it is possible to have a safe and enjoyable experience at school.
Here are my top 5 tips for choosing the right school for your child with life-threatening food allergies:
1. Be Pro-active
Be pro-active and don’t rely on the school having the same level of experience and understanding of allergies as you do. Everyone’s experience of allergies is different, and so even if the school are experienced in managing allergies, your child’s needs can still differ. What can cause a reaction, what reactions look like, and how it affects them can look very different between one child and another, so it’s really important to provide detailed information to the school in writing, and make sure that all staff are aware of the details around your child’s allergies.
2. Break it down
Don’t assume any prior knowledge and assume they will know details- for example, if your child is allergic to chickpeas, make it clear that using chickpeas in any craft activities or handling them is not Ok and that it would cause a reaction. By being extremely clear and explicit, there leaves less margin for human error.
3. Share what you found hard
Share your experiences and tips with the school, after all you know your child best and feed them every day, so you’re the expert! For example, if your child has a dairy allergy, what products contain dairy that you wouldn’t expect? Let the school know! You want to minimise the risk of making mistakes.
4. Confirm they know how to respond to a reaction
Even though they may say they have had first aid training, anaphylaxis does not often get covered in a lot of detail. Always write down and verbally go through what they would need to do in case of a reaction and make sure you are happy with their knowledge. Don’t be afraid to go over it again with them until you are happy.
5. Voice all of your concerns
Some of the concerns may not be directly related to safety, but they are still valid and need to be worked through. They might be about inclusion and even about the amount of choice for your child at lunch. They don’t want to be eating a plain jacket potato 5 days a week! Share your hard-won knowledge and give them suggestions for meals you eat at home, and substitutes that you use. There can often be bullying-related concerns, and this can be preventatively talked through and any management plans shared. Whatever you are worried about, speak up about it before school starts, and address any issues as soon as they happen.
Let me know how you're preparing for school next year in the comments!