I am twenty-five and currently do not have any children of my own. However, as a school teacher, I interact with children on a daily basis. I have taught students in kindergarten all the way up to grade six. Obviously, my language and delivery may have changed slightly, but I never hesitated to talk to my students about my food allergies.
To me, it is important to have this dialogue with them as we spend a lot of time together. With my students, I discuss that my allergens have to stay outside of the classroom. This is my way of minimizing the risk of an allergic reaction. However, if a child brings snap peas as a snack, or a sesame seed bagel for lunch, I allow them to indulge outside in the schoolyard or in the lunchroom.
Another management strategy I teach children in my class is about hand washing. Generally speaking, this is a great discussion to have with children as it addresses good hygienic practices. I encourage my students to wash their hands before and after they eat. Before eating is obvious—it helps to eliminate germs entering your system. After eating is also important as it eliminates the presence of any known allergens since other students and staff in the school may be allergic to foods other than peanuts.
I also discuss the possibility of an emergency situation. The language I use varies depending on the age of students, but I try to stress the importance of notifying another adult as soon as possible. For example, running to another classroom, notifying someone via the P.A system, or just calling for help. With older grades, I discuss common signs and symptoms and the proper use of my EpiPen®. I have some resources, like books and videos, that I read or show to the class to further discuss this topic. I have held Q&A sessions with my students to ensure they get clarification on any information about food allergies. Interestingly enough, these conversations can often be linked back to the Ontario Health Curriculum.
Some students come to class with a lot of prior knowledge about food allergies perhaps because a family member or friend has an allergy. Keep the age, maturity level, and exposure to this topic in mind when talking to children about allergies. I ensure that I adjust my vocabulary and message accordingly. Here are some sample phrases I’ve used before:
- “I am allergic to [insert allergen] which means that if I eat these foods I can have a serious allergic reaction. My symptoms might include a rash or trouble breathing.”
- “If I have an allergic reaction from eating [insert allergen], I may have to use my EpiPen® and go to a hospital for further treatment.”
- “I hope you understand that [insert allergen] isn’t something that can come into the classroom because I don’t want to risk having an allergic reaction.”
- “I noticed that you ate a snack with [insert allergen] at recess. Could you please go wash your hands?”
- “If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, can you please notify another teacher? What are some ways you could notify another teacher?”
Furthermore, here is an excerpt from the Ontario Curriculum (Grade 1 section):
- “Students will apply their knowledge of essential safety practices to take an active role in their own safety at school (e.g., inform teacher of allergies, be aware of food safety issues, play in supervised areas, follow safe routines for travelling to and from school)
Teacher prompt: “What are some things that students may be allergic to?”
Student: “They may be allergic to nuts and other foods, bee stings, or medicine.”
Teacher: “What can we do to make the classroom as safe as possible?”
Student: “We should not bring anything that might have nuts in it to school. People with allergies who need to use medicine if they have a reaction should carry their medicine [epinephrine auto-injector] with them. We should know who has an allergy and what the signs of an allergic reaction are, and we should get an adult to help if someone is having a reaction.” (Ontario Curriculum, 2015).