An approach on going back to the classroom with unique tips for each age group to have a successful and safe learning experience with food allergies.
One of the most stressful times of the year for any kid, back to school can be even more anxiety-inducing if you’re trying to navigate the new year with food allergies. It may be unclear how to approach a new year or a new school, but don’t worry. You’re about to read on some of the best ways to enter a new school year feeling confident and safe in your environment. We’ll discuss different grade levels, ways to talk to your friends about allergies, how to best interact with your parents surrounding school, and more.
Back to School with Food Allergies: Navigating Elementary School
Starting kindergarten is one of the most important milestones in someone’s life but with food allergies, it marks the official start of schooling where your parents will not be around. Here are some of the best ways to feel safe in your new environment.
- Communicate clearly with teachers and staff. The most important way to stay safe with allergies is to make sure all adults around are familiar with both your allergies as well as the processes for an anaphylactic reaction. Your physical safety at this age is of the utmost importance especially since you may not have a full understanding or grasp of the severity of your allergies and the ability to keep yourself safe on your own.
- Be stern about not eating other snacks and foods from your friends or other classmates. Sharing snacks is very common at this young age and it’s not always clear what is safe. It can be extremely tempting and difficult to try the cookie that your friend is offering to you at lunch but these situations can often lead to allergic reactions or other complications. Unless you are 100% sure of the safety of the food, avoid eating it and hold your ground if anybody pushes you to try it.
- Try to bring your own treats to class parties or field trips. It can be super easy to feel left out when an entire class is chowing down on pizza and cupcakes while you’re stuck just watching. Instead, try to plan ahead with the teacher and get an alternative so you’re able to enjoy yourself as much as the other kids are. Even better, you can bring in snacks for the whole class which are safe for you to eat to create the most inclusive environment possible.
The key to tackling elementary school is to try to make every experience as equal as possible. You won’t be judged by other kids for having to bring in a special cake or lunch as opposed to in older grades. Staying physically safe while creating bonds with possibly lifelong friends is incredibly important and easy to do at this young age even with the pressure of a new year and school.
Back to School with Food Allergies: Navigating Middle School
The next big milestone in schooling is making the transition from the comfort of your elementary school to the more chaotic world of middle school. Navigating allergies here is really hard and there’s absolutely no denying it however the experience does not have to be as treacherous as one may think. Here is some of my best advice.
- Make close connections with your friends early. This may seem completely obvious but these close bonds will allow you to feel much more comfortable when sharing a more vulnerable side to yourself. Having allergies can be embarrassing at times and there will almost certainly be instances where you’re even made fun of for them. But the support group around you is the most important part in combating this fear. Surrounding yourself with people you feel comfortable talking about your struggles or fears helps not only grow the friendship but allows for a safer in school environment and out of school experiences with food allergies.
- Be more independent with eating outside of school. This age and time in your life inherently calls for more independence and experiences away from your parents and family. Here, you should start familiarizing yourself and getting comfortable with talking about your allergies and standing up for yourself. If your friends are going to a restaurant you know isn’t safe, don’t miss out on a fun night. Instead, suggest a place you know has options. True friends would be understanding and accommodating of your issues. Try to put yourself in some uncomfortable situations where you’re required to talk about your allergies to friends or others in various different situations.
- Make smart decisions regarding your safety. During this younger age with so much more independence, it’s easy for a middle schooler to pressure you into eating something you may not be familiar with or going to a restaurant that may not have options for you. In these instances, you need to have the maturity and bravery to hold your ground and not be forced to do something you know is not safe.
A successful middle school experience with allergies is one where you feel safe while also being able to expand your experiences and grow relationships. This is a transitory time for everybody so it’s a perfect time to find what works best for you while navigating your allergies. In some situations it may be changing the plan with friends to make sure your food needs can be accommodated. In others it may be talking to teachers or administrators about field trips to make sure you’ll be able to have something to eat. Of course some of these instances may cause discomfort but exposing yourself to these situations at a young age can help you grow into a mature and responsible student and adult in the future.
Back to School with Food Allergies: Navigating High School
High school can be incredibly easy with food allergies but very tricky at the same time. At this age, many people should be more knowledgeable about allergies and understanding of your needs. Yet there are still many small issues that can cause this time to be stressful and overwhelming. Here’s what to keep in mind as you approach the first steps towards adulthood.
- Educate your friends and others around you. And I don’t just mean talk to them briefly about your own allergies. Refer them to various websites or organizations that can provide information about allergies. You should truly talk to them about your own unique struggles and caveats regarding allergies that they may not be aware of. You could mention a food that may have an allergen that most people would not expect. You could talk about a challenging experience at a restaurant in which you felt unsafe or uncomfortable. Regardless of the extent you explain or show to different people, introducing them to the resources available surrounding allergies can be incredibly beneficial to not only yourself but also the entire food allergy community as a whole.
- Try eating out at a new restaurant on your own. This may seem super awkward and unnecessary however later in life, there will certainly be instances where you need to find a restaurant in an area you are unfamiliar with completely alone. Familiarizing yourself with a similar situation at a younger age can make the experiences later on in life much easier to navigate. Try to find a restaurant that you’ve never eaten at before and go for a meal yourself. Look to find a safe option to eat and communicate your allergies clearly to your server. This could be a great way to practice a real life situation before you’re living on your own.
- Explore other medical options. There is no official cure for food allergies at the current moment but that doesn’t mean there aren’t medical ways to lessen the severity of your allergies. One treatment option is Oral Immunotherapy (OIT). This exposure therapy allows you to have a more mild reaction to your allergen. This process is incredibly grueling however the benefits can be incredible as you have a safety blanket every time you eat food for the rest of your life. This can make the transition into college and adulthood easier as previously very severe and life threatening allergies don’t prevent you from enjoying your life and experiences.
The time spent in high school should be filled with growth, learning, and fun and food allergies should have absolutely no part in prohibiting any experience or moment. Expanding your comfort zone and trying a variety of different strategies to feel safer is incredibly important.
Takeaways for Students with Food Allergies
And now you have conclusive advice on the schooling experience with food allergies. Let’s sum up the best tips that can apply to all ages and situations regarding school. The most useful and important skill is communication. Communicating your needs with your school, friends, and others in your life. Identifying with them what makes you feel the most physically safe and comfortable so your challenges don’t feel like they are impeding on the quality of your life too much.
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