I’m thrilled to have Kathryn Martin joining us today. I met Kathryn at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference last year. (This year the conference will be in Denver!) We hit it off right away and shared many meals together. She blogs at Mamacado about her family, healthy living and food allergies. Today she will share about a very important topic, teaching other people about food allergies.
5 Tips for Teaching Others about Food Allergies
If you’re a parent of a child with food allergies, you know what it’s like to quickly become a food allergy “expert”. I wouldn’t call myself an expert yet. Still, ever since my son was diagnosed with food allergies 5 years ago, I’ve had to teach countless friends, family, child care providers and teachers about food allergies and EpiPens. After doing it a few times, I’ve become more and more comfortable with teaching others about food allergies and how to keep him safe.
I thought I’d share some tips with you about how to teach others about food allergies. I hope this helps you in your food allergy journey!
1. Assume No Knowledge
When you’re meeting with someone for the first time, assume he or she has NO knowledge of food allergies. Come prepared with ALL your tools. Then, when you talk a little more, adjust your conversation based on what they already know.
For instance, I recently met with my son’s future Sunday school teacher to talk about his food allergies. She immediately told me she has two sons with severe food allergies to peanuts and sesame. She knows all about EpiPens and emergency action plans.
I breathed an immediate sigh of relief. I knew I didn’t have to teach her how to use an EpiPen, so I focused on other points I wanted to cover.
However, just remember that everyone’s food allergy journey is different. Even if the person has prior experience with food allergies, you can still teach them a lot about your child’s specific food allergy journey. Make sure you still cover all the information about your child to keep him/her safe.
2. Give Them Resources
I give each teacher a binder of information about Little Guy’s food allergies, and other related educational information. The content includes:
- His food allergy action plan
- How a child might describe a reaction
- Teacher’s checklist for managing food allergies
- Reducing the risk of exposure to food allergens
- Potential food allergens in school activities
- Non-food rewards
- Cleaning methods
- How to use an EpiPen
Here’s a photo of everything I recently included in his Kindergarten binder.
I also make a cover page to go on the front of the binder that includes his name, grade and photo. I ask them to keep the folder is his classroom in an easily accessible place.
3. Outline Your Key Points
After two or three meetings with teachers, I realized I was writing down the same notes before each meeting. Write your key points down, and keep them in a safe place where you can find them again. Here are the main points I usually focus on during my meetings. I ask the teachers/caregivers to:
CREATE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT
- Keep food out of the classroom as much as possible
- Offer non-food rewards
- Know there can be allergens in crafts – check labels
- Wash hands and surfaces/use wipes before and after eating
- Monitor snack/lunchtime and no sharing of food
INCLUDE MY CHILD
- Plan non-food focused activities and lesson plans
- Give me advance notice so I can read labels or provide safe alternatives for anything that may be food related
- If bullying occurs, make sure it’s addressed immediately. Educate the other students (through books or conversations) about food allergies to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding and bullying.
GIVE EPINEPHRINE IF NEEDED
- Know how to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction, and especially how younger children might describe a reaction
- Understand the emergency action plan and know where to locate it
- Know where the epinephrine is located
- Know how to use the epinephrine and use at the first sign of an allergic reaction. DO NOT WAIT.
There are so many other points to cover during a meeting, but these are usually my main topics!
4. Encourage Them to Practice Using Epinephrine
It’s important for child care providers and teachers to have actually practiced using an EpiPen. So, I always bring 3 “practice” related items to my food allergy meetings:
- EpiPen trainers. They are look-alike EpiPens with no needle or medication in them that you get with each EpiPen prescription.
- Expired EpiPens. Yes, keep that expired epinephrine for future practice.
- Oranges. What? Yep, the oranges are a safe place for the teachers to release the needle of the real EpiPens when they practice.
Remember to throw away those oranges after you’re done! Then also ask your allergist where to dispose of the EpiPens.
5. Keep your cool
Talking about your child’s food allergies is emotional. There’s no question about it. Practice out-loud what you’re going to say ahead of time. Laugh a little before the meeting (watch something funny, or remind yourself of a funny moment). Think about something positive you’ll do AFTER the meeting to take off the pressure. Bring water to drink to distract you if you feel emotional.
Also, think about asking your spouse, a trusted friend or family member to come to the meeting who understands food allergies and can be there to support you. I’ve found that I do feel more confident and in control of my emotions each time I have a meeting. Practice does make it easier.
How do YOU teach others about food allergies? Have you become an expert at teaching others yet?
I am Kathryn Martin, creator of the blog Mamacado, and working mama of two who loves my family, healthy living, and avocados (of course!). My Little Guy is allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. Despite his food allergies, we try to create healthy and delicious meals we can all enjoy. I’d love it if you’d check out my blog, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook pages for great ideas on food, family and fun…with a food allergy twist!