The number of UK children living with allergies is on the increase.
It is now thought that up to 50 percent of British children are living with some form of allergic condition, making it likely that if your own child does not have an allergy then one of their friends or classmates will.
Awareness and education is essential in order for allergic children to stay safe when out of the home.
If you have concerns that your child might have an allergy then you should raise them with your doctor. It is important to receive a diagnosis as soon as possible as the severity of each reaction can change sporadically and even result in anaphylaxis.
Once you know the trigger for your child’s allergies you can then look to avoid them as much as possible.
For a parent, trigger avoidance is always much easier in an environment that you have total control over, such as your own home. However, there will be many stages in your child’s life where they have to enter new and unknown environments.
Rest assured that there are steps you can take to help make your child’s move into school as smooth as possible.
Safety at school
Sending your child off to school for the first time is a momentous occasion for all parents, if not a little daunting.
Parents have to entrust the safety of their children to the teachers and other school staff. When your child has a severe allergy just the thought of this can be a worrisome prospect.
In order for this process to run as smoothly as possible there are some measures you can take so that your child’s school is fully prepared to accommodate their allergy.
Ideally before a new school term starts you should meet with the appropriate teacher or staff member and have a discussion about your child’s allergy management plan. The likelihood is that your child’s school will have dealt with allergy-prone children before so they may already have certain procedures in place.
Topics you should discuss with your child’s headteacher include:
- Specifics about your child’s allergy. What triggers it? What are their symptoms?
- Medication. An explanation of any medication that your child might require. Who will administer the treatment and have they had sufficient training? Where will the medicine be kept?
- Emergency procedure. What should happen if your child experiences a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis during school time.
- Catering requirements. Is the school nut-free? Do they promote a no-swap policy?
It is important to take measures to ensure that your child’s education is not adversely affected by their illness. Their symptoms might impede on their concentration levels or cause them to take more sick days off school than the average child without an allergy.
Social exclusion and school absences can be detrimental to exam grades, so a specific strategy to adapt to your child’s circumstances may be necessary.
It is vital to communicate with teachers if you feel that illness is affecting your child’s day-to-day performance. The teacher should be aware that if they have any particular concerns to contact you.
Children naturally want to fit in with their peers. Being left out of school activities can cause unnecessary stress. Therefore it is important for children with allergies to still be able to participate in as many regular activities as possible.
In order for your child to safely take part in as many regular school activities as possible, certain measures may need to be put in place. This might include having extra time after a swimming lesson to administer emollient or adapting recipes to avoid food allergens in cookery classes.
A discussion with your child’s teacher before the start of term can be a useful time to raise concerns about active participation.
More and more schools are becoming switched on to food allergies and are consequently adopting methods to keep allergic children safe.
These include strict rules about not bringing nuts onto school premises and teaching children not to share their food.
Parents of children with food allergies may prefer that their child takes their own packed lunch to school. However, children are entitled to the option of a meal provided by the school; and some families can apply to have these for free.
Those choosing this option will need to correspond with the school lunch providers to see how they can accommodate their child’s needs, in the case that an allergy is present.
Try to plan ahead so that the school can be prepared the very first day your child attends.
Your child’s input
It is important to keep your child involved with all decisions related to their allergy.
You may want to protect your child from the reality of their illness but this can be detrimental to their safety in the long term. Your child needs to understand their condition and know how to avoid triggers.
Try to have regular conversations with your child about their allergy to make sure that they understand it and know how to take it seriously.
When speaking to your child about allergies or any chronic illness you might like to keep the following points in mind:
- Language. Keep the vocabulary that you use at a level your child can understand.
- Emotions. Try to remain positive when discussing your child’s allergies with them. Children often look to adults for emotional guidance on how to feel about a topic. If you show signs that you are stressed and worried then your child will pick up on this and it may scare them.
- Questions. Give them lots of opportunities to ask questions.
- Resources. Speak to your child’s doctor or allergy specialist as they may have resources for parents to use when speaking to their children about allergies.
Young children might not be able to fully understand their allergy so it is therefore up to you to update every adult that cares for them.
From an early age your child should know to approach an adult as soon as they do not feel well.
It can also be a good idea to educate your child’s siblings and close friends about their allergy. This way they can help to look out for signs of allergic reaction or illness and bring them to the attention of a responsible adult.
Early life events can set us on the course we take as we get older. The influence can extend to the relationships we build, our personality, our mental wellbeing and even our health. This is why it is important that allergies are taken seriously in childhood.