Advocating for a food allergic child at their school may be challenging at times. Eleanor Garrow, vice president of education and outreach for the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) says parents should work towards cooperation with the school to educate staff and other parents about food allergies. Garrow gave me some suggestions on how to educate others.
FAAN's “Be a PAL (Protect A Life)” program is to teach students how to protect their friends from having an allergic reaction. Students learn to be a hero by watching out for their food allergic friends. Schools support these heroes by offering recognition to participants. Additionally, Be a PAL offers a specialized Girl Scout badge program, rewarding them with a badge for learning about food allergies and completing badge specific tasks.
Parents whose children are not allergic sometimes resist these programs. Garrow tells allergy parents to be patient if other parents do not understand or empathize with their child’s allergy issues. “Tell them, if this was your child and this could happen to them, how would they feel?” Garrow says the tactic often works. She suggests approaching the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) about holding an informative meeting for other parents. “Do a presentation. Show pictures, whatever it takes.” The goal is to educate. FAAN offers free PowerPoint presentations on their website.
Emotional stress for food allergic children results in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Children are afraid of what will happen if they come in contact with an allergen. Parents should encourage the school pyschologist to offer a support group for these children. If children feel protected and understood they will have the confidence to manage their food allergies effectively.
Parents can educate their children at home about managing their food allergies. Garrow says to teach them to never share food and wash hands before eating. She urges that children need to be taught to be open and honest with their peers. They should never feel ashamed or fearful of telling someone that they may be having a reaction. Teaching the proper use of medications such as Epinephrine (EpiPen) is important and empowering.
Bullying at school due to food allergies is becoming an issue for many food allergic children and their parents. Long Island schools should be able to
accommodate these children. They should not be socially isolated or left to
feel unsafe in school. The way to help a school achieve these measures is to educate them.
There are tools out there to assist parents of food allergic children. For details, see FAAN’s website at https://www.foodallergy.org with links for school presentations, "Be a Pal" and "Be a Pal Patch Program for
Girl Scout Council."