If your child has a severe food allergy, sending him or her off to school can be particularly stressful. Registered dietitian Lisa Musician, aka the Food Allergy Dietitian, can relate. Not only does she have two children with food allergies, she has spent years counseling families on how to best cope with their child’s food allergies.
In July, Lisa published Parenting a Positive Reaction – A Parent’s Guide to Help Promote Safe Care at School for Your Food Allergy Child. The goal of the book is to help parents become confident about their ability to promote safe care for their food allergy child while creating a sense of normalcy.
Q. What motivated you to write the book, both personally and professionally?
I was motivated to write the book personally because I experienced first hand what it was like to send a child off to school with food allergies, not just one child but two. As I continued to counsel more parents sending their children to school with food allergies and hearing the same questions, I felt it was necessary to reach out and help inspire parents to become confident about their ability to promote safe for their food allergy children and creating a sense of normalcy. I share my personal experiences throughout the book as well as my professional knowledge.
Q. If a parent has a child who is newly diagnosed with a food allergy, particularly a severe one, it can be incredibly stressful. What advice do you have for that parent?
With empathy and compassion, I let the parent(s) know that they are not alone and there is a wealth of information on food allergies that I will help them navigate the process of learning how to keep their child safe while maintaining optimal health and keeping peace of mind. I share my personal experiences which helps to ease their mind in knowing that they are working with someone who “gets it.”
Q. School is starting soon, and for preschoolers and kindergarteners, this may be the first time they are away from their parents at mealtime. How can parents best partner with a school to insure their child’s food allergies are managed safely and successfully?
This is exactly why I wrote my book. To help parents partner with the school to insure their child’s food allergies are managed safely an d successfully by learning how to effectively communicate by asking the questions necessary to keep their child safe. For instance, parents are encouraged to ask under what circumstances food would be in the classroom and how often. Also, ask what the snack policy is for the classroom. These are just some of the questions found in my book. Education, communication and preparation are the essential keys in managing food allergies at school. It’s a team approach between the parents, school and child.
Q. I know you believe that inadequate food allergy management plans are a prevalent issue that all parents should address. Can you elaborate on what makes for a good Allergy Action Plan and why it’s so important?
An emergency treatment or care plan (also known as a Food Allergy Action Plan or Allergy Action Plan) is a written plan of instructions based on recommendations from the child’s healthcare provider (allergist or physician managing the food allergies) that clearly states what to do if an allergic reaction happens. It’s an effective tool for communicating the necessary steps to respond appropriately to a potentially life-threatening food allergy reaction. There’s no guess work if a reaction happens, the plan spells out exactly what to do. The plan should include: basic information (name, address, contact number of parents, age, height & weight of student, date of birth, grade and teacher’s name along with emergency contact numbers listed in order of importance to be called); type of action to be taken in an emergency which would include: instructions on how and when to administer medications, list of medications, including dosage and route (oral, injection, etc.); and a list of signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Q. What is a common mistake you often see with food allergy management?
The most common mistake with food allergy management is poor recognition of allergic symptoms and subsequent failure to treat immediately with epinephrine. Delaying treatment is life threatening. When there is a question of whether or not to give epinephrine, it is best to err on the side of administering. If medication is not given within a certain amount of time after the onset of anaphylaxis, the probabilities of survival are decreased dramatically.
Q. As an overall parenting community, how can we best support families with food allergies?
Some simple tips to help support families with food allergies at school and outside of school is to offer non-food items instead of food, encourage non-food activities like playing a game or taking a walk as a way of spending time together. Simply asking what you can do to help can make all the difference to the food-allergic child and his or her parents.
Q. Any other final tips?
Keeping food-allergic children safe at school with food allergies is manageable. Parents are the greatest supporters and advocates. It’s important to understand and believe that having a food allergy is only one part of the a child’s life. A healthy outlook is to focus on the positives and possibilities life has to offer. Promoting safe care while creating a sense of normalcy at school is possible. I would encourage anyone sending a child to school with food allergies to read my book, Parenting a Positive Reaction. Sold anywhere books are sold.