If you are lucky enough to bypass childhood allergies with your own child it can be quite hard to understand when you are not the one living with allergies. Chances are, someone in your child’s class or a friend/family member is affected by food allergies. Even if your own child does not have allergies, it is more than likely that you have to be aware of what you are sending to school for snacks and lunches.
Times have changed and we are seeing an extreme influx of children with allergies. Although you may not have any experience from your own days in school with food allergies, your child does. Teaching your child how to accept the differences can go a long way in not only helping them understand that everyone is different but that being understanding and empathetic can help others feel more accepted.
If you’ve never had the experience of food allergies though, how can you to teach your child how to be inclusive? As mother’s that have children with food allergies, we’ve put together a short list of helpful tips to help you better understand allergies in the classroom.
How you can help your child understand allergies
The easiest way to help your child understand allergies is to have a conversation about them. Ask them if they know anyone with allergies and what they see day to day in the class. Having a chat about the allergic child’s feelings as well as their own feelings when reactions happen can help them develop empathy towards others. If you are unsure how to help your child understand allergies, there are many resources online to help explain the way the body works.
Make sure to include children with allergies
Quite simply, all children want to be included. Whether they are dealing with allergies, or not, they want to be included. Don’t be afraid to include a child with allergies in parties and play dates. They may not always be able to attend but just getting the invite can make a huge difference in that child’s day. Some things just aren’t easy for a child who is dealing with allergies but the invite can do more than you can even imagine for a child who is frequently left out.
Often though, depending on the severity of the allergies, parents of the child with allergies will ask what foods you are serving so they can bring similar foods for their own child to enjoy with their friends.
Offer to help
It may not seem like much but offering to make or purchase a special food or snack – even if it’s just a watermelon means the world to a parent dealing with food allergies. More often than not, they will say no thank you and pack their own food but please don’t stop offering. It’s an incredible feeling to know that you cared enough to offer. Considering children make their life long friends in early elementary school, your child’s friend may be a significant part of your life for years to come.
Snacks and lunch
Talk to your children about food. Talk about how different cultures have different foods, how some people can eat some foods and not others. Discuss how they themselves may like certain foods and really dislike others. Having these conversations will help your child accept when another child brings in food that may be different but may also be the only food they can eat. Chat about the different types of bullying and how teasing and making fun of a child who is eating a different food is considered bullying.
In some schools they have allergy tables. If your child’s friend has to sit alone at this table, consider chatting with the parents about making a safe lunch, even if it’s only once a week, so that the two can sit together. This will mean more than you will ever know to the child who is sitting to eat lunch by themselves.
Helpful Tip – Make the teacher aware a few days in advance if you are bringing in snacks or special treats so they can ensure that the child with allergies is not left out. Often the parents of the allergic child will accommodate and make their child an allergy-free snack similar to what you are bringing so that they don’t feel left out.
Lastly, as parent’s of children with allergies, we know how difficult it can be to have to accommodate allergies in the classroom, particularly if your own child is picky about what they will eat themselves. (We get it- your child only eats peanut butter sandwiches and is now not allowed to bring them to school! What the heck are you supposed to feed them now?) Although the last thing we want for our children is ‘special treatment’, know that we truly appreciate when other’s understand that we only want the same thing for our children as you do- for our children to learn and have fun in a safe environment. Unfortunately for some children, being in a safe learning environment means not allowing foods they may be deathly allergic to.
It isn’t always easy to understand what other’s are going through however, most parents are willing to share and educate others about their experiences if you ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask what cupcake recipes or bakeries they recommend if you want to be able to accommodate their allergic child.(Chances are they will be happy to give you tips or just offer to bring their own food anyways.) If your child is struggling to understand and would like to be inclusive, seeking guidance from the teacher or parents themselves would be a great first step!