6 Tips to a Stress-Free Starting School with Allergies

When you have a child with severe food allergies, starting school is probably one of the most stressful experiences you can go through as a parent. You are entrusting your child's safety to other people, who you probably don't know very well. Suddenly your child won't have you around to keep an eye on things. It's really difficult to let go and entrust someone's judgement. There are red flags everywhere you look. Your mind is filled with 'what if's' and you feel nauseous with fear that your child may be put at risk.

Let me set your mind at ease - The reality is "YES" , something may go wrong. Your child may be put at risk and you won't be there. Your fear is based on a realistic possibility that something may go wrong. It's a normal reaction to being out of control of what your child is exposed to. It's scary and nobody really understands except other parents of children with life threatening allergies. Feel better?

I thought I might as well get that out there, it's easier to deal with the giant in the room when you know what it is. The best way to face your fear is head on. Look fear in the face. The TRUTH is you need to HAVE FAITH. Starting school is another step toward your child growing up and becoming independent. While it is natural to have anxiety and be scared of this step and please don't think I want to downplay your feelings at all, however, I believe that YOU were given this wonderful child with extra needs because YOU ARE EXACTLY THE RIGHT PERSON TO DEAL WITH IT..... AND SO IS YOUR CHILD!!!!!   

FEAR - has 2 meanings as the image portrays. The choice is yours - run away, bury your head in the sand, pretend it's not real, feel sorry for yourself (totally acceptable and I've been there for a season)  OR face your fear head on and do everything in your power to minimise the risk of an allergic emergency. The reality is - we don't have a choice - and it's NOT FAIR!!!!!  If we did, I would have run away that day my dear boy was diagnosed to severe food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, rice, corn, oats, chicken, potato, peas, lupin, peaches, fish and shellfish. Running doesn't change anything, burying our head in the sand or ignoring it won't help - the fear will just grow into an unsurmountable monster. And besides, chances are you are a mum - mums don't get the luxury of running away. (everyone would follow us anyway)

So pick yourself up, draw on your inner strength and move on to this next chapter of your child growing up and gaining their own independence. Face the dangers head on and strategize how to overcome and prevent them one by one. Worrying will do nothing but give you ulcers and make you look older than you are. I'm not saying to have a "don't worry, she'll be right" mentality. I'm saying to control what you can and then have faith and believe in others and God, the greater being, the universe ( whatever your beliefs are) that your child will be kept safe.

By the age of school, your child will have a great idea about their health. If you have been educating them all the way, they will have an idea of what they can and can't have. They will know NOT to SHARE FOOD OR DRINK. Don't underestimate your child. They are pretty clever and switched on. How do I know? Because of YOU! Allergy kids have something special about them. Allergy mums and dads have an amazing specialness about them. You were born for this challenge. You are amazing so never underestimate or doubt yourself. You can and you will rise to this challenge. How do I know?? Because I've done it. If I can get through it (with very little practical support from friends or family) - then I know YOU CAN!!!

Let me share some tips that may help you....

1. Be a duck

Be a duck - calm on the outside despite panicking on the inside.

Be a duck - calm on outside while your paddling like mad underneath. 
Create a positive environment - Having a child with severe food allergies is stressful. Having a child with severe food allergies start school is something that parents are anxious about from the moment their child is diagnosed. Please remember, your child will pick up any anxiety or stress you may be feeling. Therefore, it's important that you don’t portray your anxiety to your child. While they do need to be aware of the dangers that any new environment holds, your child deserves the right to have a positive school experience without worrying about why mum is curled up on the lounge in a crying mess. If you are emotional, (which is absolutely normal and acceptable and needed!!) try and hold it off until you are by yourself. Have a good cry in the shower when you get up then hold off until after you drop them at school. 

Give your child the opportunity to grow confidence in themselves and their own ability to keep safe. Time to unwrap that cotton wool, and allow your child to spread their wings and do normal things that other kids do. Remember to breathe! Listen to some calm music,  do what you need to do to be in a calm positive place for that first day of school.

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2.   Eat a healthy breakfast

Start the day with a good healthy breakfast - you and your child. This will be a huge day, probably one of the most stressful and emotional days you will have. Be kind to yourself. Eat something healthy and nourishing. If you really don't feel like eating (I get like that when I'm stressed) make yourself a healthy smoothie.
Also, it is NOT the time to be trying something new for your allergic child to eat. No food challenges this week - you have enough to deal with. Give your little one something you know they can safely have. 

3.   Educate! Educate! Educate!
Educate your child about potential dangers As a parent of a child with severe allergies, it is your responsibility to teach your child about their food allergy. Ideally, you will have been doing this since their diagnosis in an age appropriate way. Gently remind them at breakfast time how to keep themselves safe. Reassure them and answer questions or concerns they have calmly.

Your child needs to know the dangers that they face. After all, it is their health. As a parent it is your job to teach your child how to keep themselves safe. They will have an understanding about what they can and can’t eat by the time they start school. School is a new environment with new risks. It's important to discuss with your child potential dangers. You need to do this in a calm manner without stressing your child. Before starting school it is important to emphasise potential risks in their new environment. Emphasis of ‘No food or drink sharing’ is essential. Point out possible dangers, not to bring anxiety but in a way that is educating them and reminding them. Your child needs to know where their epipen is. If you choose to have your child wear their epipen, they need to wear it always. Remind them if they feel ill to tell their teacher.

Educate your teacher  – You need to meet with your child’s teacher one on one. Save up expired epipens and have your child's teacher practise using one on an orange. This will help eliminate  some of the fear attached to using an epipen. Most schools will have a risk assessment plan done. Ensure your teacher is involved and knows the plan. Decide where your child will keep their epipen and stick to the routine. Ensure your child's Anaphylaxis Action Plan is in plain view. 
When my son started school we had a series of brainstorming sessions discussing each danger as we saw it. Go through everything you can think of such as -the day to day running of the classroom, sport, excursions, sport carnivals, casual teaching staff, playground duty, canteen, assemblies, end of year muck up days (potential egg throwing), fetes, cake stalls etc.
Discuss what will happen in various situations. More about this here....

Starting School with Allergies - 20 Helpful Tips

Educate ALL staff -  Most schools, depending on which state you are in, all staff must attend anaphylaxis training course. I insist that you and your child also attend the training. Firstly, it is a great opportunity for staff to put a face to your child. Teachers need to be able to recognise your child in the event of anaphylaxis occurring.

Secondly, it is good for staff to know you. Introducing yourself this way will open up future channels of communication with office staff, your childs teacher and future teachers. Staff will then know you and be able to approach you on a one on one basis for further information.

Thirdly, it is important to know that the staff are receiving the correct information about anaphylaxis. Most trainers will display the approved power point presentation provided by Anaphylaxis Australia. Depending on the individual trainer, they will also give a demonstration of how to actually use the epipen. Make sure they do - ours didn't and my 5 year old jumped up to show the staff how to use the epipen.

 4.   Keep Calm and breathe

Sometimes when we are stressed and anxious we forget to breathe. So BREATHE!! Perhaps my best friend on the first day of my boy starting school is my bottle of Rescue Remedy. If you're not familiar with it, it's a Bach flower essence blend created I'm sure specifically for allergy mums to help manage stress, restore calm and correct emotional imbalances. Pick yourself some up from the chemist or health food store. It really helps.

Do whatever you need to do to feel better and maintain your peace -Meditation, prayer, exercise, yoga, listen to some music, relaxing bath. There are some great aromatherapy blends can help .....

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5.   It’s kids play. Organise play dates with friends and parents
Your allergic child is embarking on a new world -without you always being there. As
scary as it is for a mum with a child facing life threatening allergies, it's going to happen
regardless. Best to embrace it. When your child starts making friends at school , take the initiative and organise some play dates with your child's friends and their parents. These kids are probably the same ones who will grow up with your allergic child and help to
keep them safe. Take the bull by the horns and start educating now - in an age
appropriate way. Having play dates is also a great way to help educate mums who
probably have no idea what you face everyday. It's the perfect opportunity to dispel any
myths or fears about fear allergies they may have. Hopefully you'll make some friends at
the same time.

6.   Look after YOU!
Congratulations!!!! have done an amazing job in raising your child to this point. If you 
have given the teaching staff all the information and done all you can, well done! Be
confident that you have done everything to keep them safe. Now, do something for you 
to keep yourself busy, take your mind off things and also to celebrate. 

After you drop your little one off to school on that first day do something nice for you. Go
for coffee or lunch with a friend. Treat yourself a massage or pedicure. Do something
that helps you take your mind off things and that makes you feel good. Keep yourself 
busy but always within mobile range. I was really fortunate enough to have the most
amazing kindy teacher when my boy started school. She texted me regularly to let me
know everything was okay. I will forever be grateful. I hope you also have amazing
teachers have I have been blessed with so far. 

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If you are feeling like your not coping or it's all too much, ensure you have the support
that you need, whether through your partner, family or friends, church, a therapist or a
support group.  Look after you.

 I wish you all the very best for the first day fo big school for your little one- and for you. It's a big step and please let me know how you go. 

Sonya x

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