The start of school is a time of heightened sensitivity around food allergies as parents of food-allergic and non food-allergic children receive notification about nut-free classrooms, tables, etc. As a parent of a child with severe food allergies it is frustrating to hear the negative stories around poor handling of food situations in schools. Unfortunately, we have a lot of educating to do on the topic of food allergies and it is an issue that is difficult to fully understand until you are placed in the situation of managing such circumstances with your own children.
Perhaps one of the more discouraging pieces is the focus on how a child might feel excluded by school policy versus an emphasis on the need for safety. Sure, nut free tables can be seen as isolating, but given the likelihood of anaphylactic reaction wouldn't you choose safety first? Likewise, the stories of parents making comments about how "crazy" allergy parents can be or how "those parents" make it difficult for everyone else are disappointing.
The underlying issue here is teaching our children about acceptance. Regardless of how another student reacts to my child's need to sit at an allergy-friendly table, I can choose to reinforce a positive outlook on individuality. In our house we talk often about differences, how those qualities make us unique, and the importance of accepting others for who they are. And, this has nothing necessarily to do with food allergies or what we eat.
Truthfully, no child should be made to feel unsafe in school. It doesn't matter if your child is managing a food allergy, academic issue, or is just trying to adjust to the new school year. As parents we can support a healthier school culture through modeling acceptance. It is easy to get caught up in the parking lot banter or feel offended by comments made in passing, but if we reserve judgement and remind ourselves that we don't truly know another's situation until we walk in their shoes then we become ambassadors of a positive school culture.
Recently my preschooler asked, "Mommy, why do some people say bad things?" My initial, honest, response was simply "I don't know." Then together my son and I engaged in an age-appropriate conversation about feelings, choices, and how our words can make other people feel. As we navigated these topics my goal was to make each issue relatable to my almost 4 year-old in a way that helped him grasp these abstract concepts. Recognizing the abstract nature of feelings and choices made it clear that these are even difficult concepts for adults to grasp, especially when you layer in the element of wanting what is best for your child.
As I think about this school year and the many more to come, my hope is that my children will always find themselves sitting at a table of acceptance, regardless of whether or not it is identified as the allergy-friendly table.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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