Food Allergies and Young Children

by Beth

If that moment hasn’t arrived yet, odds are that it will in your future.  You will have a child with food allergies in your classroom or home daycare. According to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), one in every 13 children is affected by food allergies. That’s a lot of kids.  My son happens to be one of the those children.  Let me first take a moment to tell you about him.  He is smart, quirky, loves the superheroes and video games, plays guitar, and most of all wants to just blend in to the group. He also happens to have multiple food allergies (milk, egg, peanut, treenuts and sesame) and asthma.  He just wants to fit in. Isn’t that what all kids want?

Right now there is no cure.  We rely on strict avoidance, and carry medication at all times.  The medication that is prescribed is an EpiPen.  An EpiPen is an auto-injector that contains a single dose of epinepherine.

There are 8 foods that are the cause of the vast majority of reactions.  Milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish are the foods.

Trust me.  I’ve been in your shoes as a teacher, so I know that changing how you have run your classroom is hard.  I get that.  But the changes that you make, can lessen the chances of a child having a reaction. You are also reducing the chances of classmates witnessing a very scary scene while their friend needs care.  A lot of them are simple changes.  I have listed two that would have a huge impact.

  • Limiting or eliminating food in the classroom is probably the most important one.  A preschool program doesn’t have to be about eating all day long.  In addition to food allergies, diabetes and the obesity epidemic are other concerns.
  • Washing hands helps to keep your food allergic student safe.  It’s also a great way to keep colds and flu at bay.

As a caregiver, you should also be aware of the signs of an allergic reaction.  FAAN has a nice webpage that describes how a young child might describe a reaction.

Teaching children to be inclusive teaches them compassion. It is the right thing to do.  It might not be easy, but let me say it again, it is the right thing to do. Having age appropriate reading material is an easy way to have discussions about it.  There are many books that are out there these days.  Here are a few that we have in our collection.  Allie the Allergic Elephant: A Children’s Story of Peanut Allergies was a huge hit in our house when we bought it.  Another book by that author that we own is Cody the Allergic Cow: A Children’s Story of Milk AllergiesOne of the Gang is nice for younger children, too.  In addition to books for the children in your care, staff need some background information. I purchased this book for our school,  Food Allergies & Schools: Pocket Guide for Educators by Julie Trone, It is easy to read and filled with important information and tips.

Families like mine rely on people just like you every day.  There are times when their kindness has brought me to tears.  My son never asked for the cards that he has been dealt.  We just do the best we can with the most current information out there. Help along the way is always welcome!

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