11. July 2017
My Child Has an Allergy – Tips for Starting School

Every child looks forward to the first day of school with excitement and anticipation. For parents, it is a time of ‘letting go’ as their children become more independent. This can be especially difficult when a child has severe allergies. But there are a number of things parents can do to make sure their child gets off to a good start at school.

  • Inform
    …teachers and school administrators

Explain your child’s allergy and how severe it is. Provide a doctor’s note so that they know it is not a self-diagnosis. Discuss together how the trigger can be avoided and make sure they understand the child’s specific needs. For example:

Can a nut-free snack be stored in the classroom and given to a child with a severe nut allergy while the others are getting a piece of cake on a birthday?

Does the gym class include sufficient warm-up and interval training so that a child with severe allergic asthma can safely participate?

Are children given consideration if severe hay fever affects their performance at school?

The ‘Schule und Krankheit’ (‘School and Illness’) network provides more ideas on what to discuss and information about overcoming obstacles. You can find tips on class trips here.

  • Inform
    …school caterers/school cooks

School catering services have no legal obligation to prepare meals for children with food allergies. However, many of them do provide options for people with allergies. Give caterers/cooks a medical certificate specifying which allergens or foods the child cannot tolerate.

  • Inform
    …other parents

If your child has a severe (food) allergy, you should speak about it to the other students and their parents. You can explain during a parent/teacher meeting and/or in the parents’ newsletter which foods your child needs to avoid and what reaction they trigger. Rather than bringing sweets to school on birthdays, encourage parents to hand out small gifts, such as stickers, and to prepare potluck dishes without the offending ingredients. For more details, here are some tips.

  • Support your child

Explain to your child which allergens cause reactions and how he or she can be exposed to them. Knowing exactly why it is dangerous to exchange a sandwich will make it easier for them to avoid doing so. Help your child to develop strategies for safely dealing with allergy triggers. Encourage your child to become more assertive and to advocate for his or her needs. Find out who he can go to for help if he feels unwell. If there is a risk of anaphylaxis or a severe asthma attack, ensure that the child carries emergency medication and knows how to use it.

  • Prepare for an emergency

If your child has an emergency kit for a severe allergy, the school staff should be able to identify an anaphylactic reaction and administer medication. Many people are understandably concerned about making a mistake when using an adrenaline injector. Teachers must be able to administer first aid but are not legally obliged to give medication. You can therefore only request their support. You may be able to put their minds at ease by signing a disclaimer that releases them from any liability if they do provide assistance. Offer to train the teaching staff and give a precise description of the signs of anaphylaxis and the specific measures to be taken. The training could also be provided by a doctor. You should have a doctor’s statement on hand with information on how to administer the medication. In addition, an emergency plan with a photo of the child should be posted at a central location. The emergency kit should be stored in a place to which all staff members have access.

  • Prepare for an emergency

If your child has severe allergic asthma, the school staff should be informed of the triggers and know what to do if your child is coughing or has difficultly breathing. Offer to train the staff and give step-by-step instructions on what to do in an emergency. Provide a printable emergency plan for the school staff to follow. You can find our guidebook on asthma at school for teachers and parents here.

We spoke with one father about how to manage daily life at school with a severe allergy. His son Luis was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy when he was four years old. Luis is now attending primary school and is focused on his studies, not his allergy. We hope you find inspiration in this family’s story.

We wish your child all the best for the first day of school!