Should Students Learn About Food Allergies, Even If They Don't Have One?
Sending your child to school is hard for any parent, especially those with children with food allergies. The constant worry of if your child will make contact with their allergen can be overwhelming. Your child understands their allergies, as do you. But, what about their school? While you may know tips on managing allergies at school or the needs of starting school, your school and peers may not. Students learning about your child’s allergy can change their life for the better from becoming an advocate or learning compassion.
Education is key
Children with food allergies are always at risk of encountering their allergen, especially at school. What if your child eats their allergen? What if your child goes into anaphylactic shock? There are many situations where your child can use an ally in managing their food allergies. To Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, her best friend Bethany Holloway is that ally.
In 2016, Natasha died after eating a sandwich that had an undeclared allergen. Bethany now advocates for better labeling on food and for schools to teach about food allergies. Bethany says: “It is so important, when you have a friend or family member with allergies to take them seriously. I first knew Natasha at the age of eight. I hadn't known anyone before who had allergies. Many of us didn't understand what it really was or indeed how serious they were. Natasha would explain that if she ate or even touched any of the many foods she was allergic to, she could die. Perhaps some people may think allergies are 'fussiness' or 'attention-seeking'. If you do not take them seriously, you are putting peoples lives at risk.”
While some schools teach first aid and CPR, it is up to those with allergens to inform friends and teachers about their allergies and how to use an EpiPen. Sadly, one in ten young people are too embarrassed to tell their friends about food allergies. Some schools are trying to combat allergies by prohibiting some allergens on campus, but they cannot monitor every single lunch brought in from home.
But will teaching students change anything?
Students can be protectors
Susanna Lyons, a preschool teacher, is allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, soy, beans, chickpeas and lentils. She is unable to eat some of the meals that are provided due to her allergies. Instead of hiding her allergies, she taught them about her allergies. Met with confusion, she spent twenty minutes with them, answering any questions about her allergies. During lunches, the children now remind her to stay safe and avoid eating her allergens.
Susanna believes that educating her students on her food allergies turned them into protectors, compassionate and empathetic to her plight. Her allergies lead to conversations about the differences among people as well as mental and physical needs of others.
From friends who watch over what they eat, or peers being empathetic to the struggles, education can change a child’s life. Just like teaching a child with food allergies about their allergens, teaching all students about food allergies can change their lives for the better.
Do you feel schools should teach about food allergies to all students? Does your school do anything to combat food allergies? Comment below and share your stories!