Starting school is a huge milestone and mixture of emotions for every child and parent. When your child has an allergy/allergies these feelings can be coupled with anxiety and apprehension. I certainly felt that way when M started school two years ago. She was leaving pre school where we knew all the staff so well and they had been amazing with their care and understanding of allergies and she was also going to be at school 5 days a week meaning I would see her less and have less ‘control’ of her care. I was worried about this and as I have previously spoken about my anxiety this definitely became worse around this time. I will be honest and say on my days off work I would watch the clock waiting until I could pick her up and I checked my phone constantly to ensure the school hadn’t tried to contact me and she was ok. I am happy to say I am in a much better place now and do not feel the need to do this. M loves school and we have had a positive experience with the staff in caring for Ms allergies. As I prepare for my son G starting school this time round (with no allergies) there is less anxiety although I still worry about will he make friends/enjoy it etc! This takes me back to this time two years ago and remembering some things I did that made me feel better about M starting school and wanted to share with any parents who have their little one starting school this time around.
- Communication is key
This is so important to discuss your childs needs/ allergies and care plan. If a meeting has not already been held request a meeting with the key people involved in your child’s care to share their needs, what a reaction may look like and the course of action. Make a list of things you would like to discuss/ ask before you go so that you feel prepared and don’t miss anything. Ask about their policies on food allergies and staff training on administering an adrenaline pen. As all brands are different I ordered a Jext trainer pen’ (free from their website) and allowed the staff to have a ‘practice’ of administering this on each other. Ask if the school has a school nurse and liaise with them about your child’s needs. The school should have forms to fill in before your child starts including
Medication Authorisation forms
Special dietary needs Accommodation form – if your child is having school meals
Emergency Action Plan
Finally, if something doesn’t feel right do not be afraid to speak up and highlight the seriousness of your childs condition. I had an experience with the schools breakfast club where I felt they weren’t taking M’ allergy seriously. I went direct to the manager and managing director of the club to ensure that all staff were made aware and had training on using the pens.
2. Meet with your child’s teacher
I met with M’s teacher to discuss how things like class baking would work, school trips and daily allergy care (cover teachers etc) . The school were amazing with this and insisted on the children bringing only fruit and veg as their snack and always checked birthday treats with myself before giving them to M. We kept a safe treat box at school so if there was anything she couldn’t have it could be quickly swapped.
3. Visit your childs doctor
Make an appointment with your child’s doctor before school starts to get an up to date prescription of adrenaline auto injectors, any inhalers, antihistamines etc. We needed 4 pens as we left two at school and two for home. The doctor may also need to sign the forms for school.
4. Discuss with your child the age appropriate skills to manage their allergies
It is worth having a conversation with your child about what to do if they feel unwell, who would they tell. This is something I worried about as M used to be quite shy so I had to really make explicit that it was ok to interrupt the teacher if you do not feel well. It is also important to teach your child not to share food and what to do if anyone was unkind to them. As they get older these discussions will become different with other things to discuss. It is always worth having over the summer holidays and as I prepare my son for school I will also be reiterating these points with M.
5. Try and relax and be positive!
I know, I know this is easier said than done but to ensure M didn’t pick up on my anxiety around starting school I kept it positive and made it an exciting thing. I remember taking her on the bus to town as a treat to choose her uniform and bag etc which she loved. I also popped little notes in her bag etc and for the first few weeks she took a hair bobble which I had one too so she could look at it and know I was thinking about her. As M didn’t know any other children when starting school the school secretary gave me (with the mums permission) the contact details of a family down the road whose daughter would be in M’s class. We met with them a couple of times so she would have a familiar face on the first day. Starting school is a huge milestone so be gentle on yourself, plan some nice things for the weekends in September and try to adopt some extra self care. There were plenty of tears (from me) that first day but she loves school, has made some lovely friends and has learned so much. The time we have in the holidays and the weekends is even more precious. So good luck to all the new school starters and mamas/dad’s/grandparents waving them off on that first day!