An Open Letter From a Food Allergy Mom as Our Kids Head Back to School

school food allergy
Source: Jess Hohman

Dear Parents, 

As each new school year approaches, we all feel some anxiety for our children, with the pandemic no doubt adding an additional level of worry. We’re all hopeful that our children will make friends, make the grade, make the team, and just adjust seamlessly into their new environment.  

The parents of food allergic children are also hopeful that our kids will survive each day without exposure to their allergen, without a call from the school that an ambulance is on the way, and without a painful Epinephrine injection to the thigh. 

In a world where an individual’s inability or unwillingness to care for the health of others has become abundantly clear, this anxiety is taking over food allergy parents who put their child’s survival into the hands of someone else every day.  

This might sound dramatic. But imagine your child is instantly covered in hives or that their mouth “feels funny” because it’s swelling up. It is a gut-wrenching, heart-in-your-throat, end-of-days-type fear that I hope you never have to experience.

And the worst part is the unknown. When your child has a food allergy, it can be unclear just how severe the reaction will be with each exposure. It might be something Benadryl and a cool bath can help or it might be the imminent danger of constricted airways.

To put it bluntly, the parents of food allergic kids need your help this school year.

 

I need your help this school year

As your child heads back to school, if you happen to be in the school, grade, or class that reaches out to you about food allergies, please think about the situation before reacting harshly. Please think about the child who—through no fault of their own—has a life-threatening condition but is otherwise just like your child. They’re happy, excited, and nervous to start the school year, but there’s a constant threat to their life in the hands of their young classmates. 

All I ask is that you show my child the same compassion and care that you show your own. I know you wouldn’t knowingly give your child something that would hurt them, so please extend that same courtesy to kids, like mine, with a food allergy, even if it means skipping the PB+J or daily milk at lunch.

 

 

Yes, kids will be kids. They’ll be picky eaters sometimes. But they’re also capable of showing compassion for their classmates when they understand the threat at hand. Please talk to your kids openly and honestly about why they can’t have their favorite snack at school, and I bet they will willingly leave it behind if it means they’re helping keep a friend safe. 

 

Yes, kids will be kids … But they’re also capable of showing compassion for their classmates when they understand the threat at hand.

 

I know how much is on a parent’s plate, and I would never willingly add more, but this is out of our control. Food allergies aren’t preferences or trendy diets we’re trying to force upon our children and yours—allergens can kill our kids.  

I don’t expect anyone to be well-versed in a reality that isn’t theirs. I don’t expect someone who doesn’t live with the worry about accidental exposures to realize those small leftover peanut butter specks on your child’s hands in the morning can be a threat. But I am more than willing to help you navigate this reality with me.  

So here is my plea directly to you, to the parents of my child’s classmates: Please ask me questions, because what you think of as harmless actions could easily have harmful consequences for my child.

 

Please ask me questions, because what you think of as harmless actions could easily have harmful consequences for my child.

 

I can tell you that the biggest help is committing to allergen-friendly snacks and lunches at school. Also, you can teach your children to make sure to ask if their friend has allergies when they’re embarking on the classic pastime of trading snacks. Another easy practice to teach them is to wash their hands after their meals and wipe down their tables.

 

 

And I can tell you so much more if you just ask.  

I understand there’s a learning curve here. I had to learn how to function in a world where a simple snack could send my child to the ER and to read food allergen labels on everything, even sunscreen and shampoo. It can seem like a lot of extra work if you aren’t used to it, but it’s work any parent would happily do for their own child.  

Please help my food allergic child enjoy the same carefree childhood you want for your kids. No one wants their child to be forced to sit alone or to be labeled as the “weird kid” because of something so wildly out of their control. Your help in keeping a food allergic child safe is the first step to a school experience that we all desperately want for our kids.  

But if you refuse to ask questions or choose to ignore warnings from the school, it’s possible that your “harmless actions” may have catastrophic consequences for a child just like your child and a parent just like you. 

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to those of you who try.  

Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself on allergens.

Thank you for asking the questions.

And thank you for keeping my child safe.  

I promise to do the same for your child.

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