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How to Foster a Good Relationship with Your Child's School
10 TIPS TO A HEALTHY STUDENT-SCHOOL PARTNERSHIPDo school ice cream parties scare you? You're not the only one. It's terrifying for any parent to release their food-allergic child to "strangers" at school who have little to no understanding of food allergies. And it's normal to feel disappointed and frustrated when your child's class throws an ice cream party or serves an unsafe snack.
Learning to choose your battles wisely and collaborate with—instead of confront—your child's school will help you obtain positive outcomes when issues of divisiveness surface.
What follows is a list of tips to ensure a healthy partnership between your child and his school—from a mom who's been there.
1. Pick your battles.Many issues will arise. Non-negotiable ones will need to be dealt with immediately. Negotiable ones let you work to keep your child safe, while also allowing the school to accomplish what they are trying to accomplish.
2. Provide solutions.If your child's principal wants all students to bring in milk jugs for an arts and crafts project, ask if your child's class can bring in water jugs (or orange juice, lemonade or iced tea jugs instead). Planning in advance can work for class parties, too. If your child's teacher wants to throw an ice cream party, ask if water ice or a safe sorbet could work instead. Many times, activities that appear to be blatant disregard for your child's situation are caused by a lack of education about food allergies. Explain the severity of the situation to your child's teacher and/or school officials, or offer to find an expert to present the topic of food allergy at a teacher meeting. Offer alternative suggestions so teachers consider asking you for advice prior to the event!
3. Smile and stay calm (if only for appearances).It's true. You really do catch more bees with honey. If you have a give-and-take relationship with the school and show appreciation when events go right, they will be more apt to help you next time.
4. Get support.You can't do this alone. Involve your spouse, family, friends and people you trust. Sometimes a nurse from the allergist's office will agree to accompany you to meetings or speak to a group. If this is possible, make sure you are on the same page first—with regard to diagnosis and treatment as well as your expectations of the school.
5. Get it in writing.Make sure you trust and feel confident in your child's allergist, and try to keep your relationship a positive one. Get the best possible documentation you can from your allergist.
6. Keep your child's self-esteem in mind.Always consider what is in the best interest of your child. Sometimes it is healthier for you to forfeit a conflict now, so that you don't alienate someone who could help you down the road. There are many creative ways to allow your child to participate safely without changing the activity for the rest of the class.
7. Become an expert in substitutions.Have your child's teacher tap your very creative brain any time food is used in a lesson. Then, be observant and creative. Next time a teacher wants to use washed-out cream of mushroom soup cans to hold the scissors, suggest washed-out Play-Doh containers...and provide them, if possible.
8. Grow a thick skin.Your child's teacher may try their hardest to convince parents not to send their child in with a peanut butter cup or Cheetos for a school snack. But, sadly, there will always be one or two people who are difficult to convince. It's not an excuse; it's reality. Try not to take it personally.
9. Show you care.Let other parents know that you would make the same accommodations for their child—and follow through. Sometimes the school is responding to outside pressure from parents who insist on keeping the school “normal.” Showing that you are a team player can alleviate the pressure.
10. Say “Thank you” when things go right.Show your heartfelt appreciation any time another parent, child, teacher or school staff member goes out of their way to help make life easier for you or your child. If the classroom keeps special snacks all year long to help keep your child safe, sponsor a “thank you” party, safe snack or game time at the end of the year. Send flowers or a card to the principal or school nurse. Donate a food allergy book to the school library. Or start out a meeting by thanking the attendees for being there to listen and help.
Approved by KFA's Medical Advisory Team August 2010.