When Your Child's Classmates Have Allergies

tips to promote understanding and inclusion
When your child's classmates have allergies: Common allergen foods

© Shutterstock / Evan Lome

If you are lucky enough to bypass childhood allergies with your own child, it can be quite hard to understand if you are not living it. Chances are someone you know either in your child’s class or a friend/family member is affected by food allergies, and it is more than likely that you have to be aware of what you are sending to school for snacks and lunches because of it.

Times have changed from when parents were in school and we are seeing an extreme influx of children with allergies. Teaching your child to accept these challenges can go a long way in not only helping them tolerate difference but accept that being understanding and empathetic is not a burden and can help others feel more included.

As mothers of children with food allergies, we’ve put together a short list of helpful tips.

Help your child understand

The easiest way to help your child understand allergies is to have a conversation about them. Ask them if they know anyone with allergies and what they see day to day in the class. Having a chat about the allergic child’s feelings as well as their own feelings when reactions happen can help them develop empathy towards others. If you are unsure how to help your child understand allergies, there are many videos and resources online to help explain the way the body works.

Inclusion in social events

All children want to be included. Plain and simple. Don’t be afraid to include a child with allergies in parties and playdates — there are lots of safe, alternative ways to enjoy social events. They may not always be able to attend but just getting the invite can send the message that they are wanted when it may be common for them to be left out.

Offer to help

When you include a child with allergies, offering to make or purchase a special food or snack means the world to a parent dealing with food allergies. More often than not, they will say no thank you and pack their own food but please don’t stop offering. It’s enough to know that you cared enough to offer. Considering children make their lifelong friends in early elementary school, your child’s friend may be a significant part of your life for years to come, so integrating their allergy challenges into your time with them will help everyone feel more secure.

School lunches

Talk to your children about food. How different cultures have different foods, how some people can eat some foods and not others, and how they themselves may like certain foods and really dislike others. Having these conversations will help your child accept when another child brings in food that may be different but may also be the only food they can eat and that they should not be teased about it. Chat about how making fun of a child who is eating a different food is considered bullying — a great opportunity to open up this important conversation.

In some schools they have allergy tables to create a safe distance from allergenic foods brought in by other kids. If your child’s friend has to sit alone at this table, consider making a safe lunch, even if it’s only once a week, so that the two can sit together. This will mean more than you will ever know to the child who is sitting to eat lunch by themselves.

Special days

Making the teacher aware that you are sending in snacks or special treats a few days in advance can ensure that the child with allergies is not left out. That way, their parents can accommodate and make them a similar snack.

It isn’t always easy to understand what others are going through, but most parents are happy to share and educate others about their needs and experiences if you ask questions. If your child is struggling to understand and would like to be inclusive, seeking guidance from the teacher or parents themselves is a great first step!

*Originally published September 1, 2016