If you're a parent who is new to childcare or someone who has an allergy-free child – the world of allergies and intolerances might not even be on your radar! When your child begins childcare, there are many things to remember, and we understand this can be an overwhelming time.
We harbour an inclusive environment at Genius childcare where all children feel safe, secure, and cared for. We ensure a safe environment for all children with allergies, and our staff are highly trained in what to do if a child has a reaction to a food or the environment.
Food allergies are most common in children under the age of five. Therefore, we at Genius feel it's critical to educate all parents on what we can do to protect those children with allergies.
Here is some information on how everyone can be mindful of allergies at preschool.
What are allergies?
Allergies are when the body's immune system reacts to a specific protein in the food they eat. The most common allergies found in children occur with cow milk, nuts and eggs. The reaction to encountering these foods can be mild, moderate or severe. Reactions can include hives, stomach pain, swelling, face swelling, vomiting and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening reaction which if untreated, can be fatal. The symptoms of anaphylaxis are throat, tongue and lip swelling, breathing difficulties and dizziness.
Allergy Mindfulness at Preschool
We must be mindful of those children who may have food allergies and how we can do our best to protect them. At Genius Childcare, we like to educate our families on protecting the vulnerable children in our centres and community. The following measures can ensure we keep all of our little learners safe, happy and healthy while at preschool:
- Ensure you do not send your child to preschool with any nut butter, milk or egg residue on their body or clothes.
- Educate your child about the importance of not sharing food with others. This is a handy rule to take to primary school later on as well!
- Ask our educators if there is anything else you can do to protect the children in the centre with food allergies.
- Our educators are there to help, you could ask if there are any children in the centre with allergies and what they are, so you can avoid your child possibly bringing traces of those foods into childcare.
- Food is of course provided at Genius, but if you are packing a lunch box for your child in an environment where other children will be present, pack healthy options for your child, which do not include egg, cow’s milk or nuts. This may be a small inconvenience for you, but could make a world of difference to another family.
Special Events and Celebrations
Special events and celebrations such as birthday parties can be a high-risk time for children with allergies. When planning a birthday party, it's essential to be mindful of everyone's dietary requirements. Opening up communication with other parents is a beautiful way to make sure all children enjoy the event and have food and drinks that are safe. A small note on the birthday party invitation with your name and phone number and a note asking for any special dietary requirements is always helpful. This allows parents with children with allergies the opportunity to reach out and communicate their child's needs.
We spoke to mum of 2 and blogger (@tinytribewithallergies on Instagram) Sarah about her experience with her sons who have severe allergies and intolerances, and some ideas around party favours or party bags.
She explained “When I'm putting the lolly bags together I try to keep them neutral ‘allergy friendly’ so the child with the allergy does not feel singled out or indifferent. Having said this, at many parties we attend the reality is that my children will receive a completely different lolly bag as they are the ones the allergies. This is absolutely fine because as a parent we are just grateful he will receive some take home safe goodies like the other kids.
My eldest son is allergic to dairy (milk) and peanuts. The natural confectionary company is our safest option as their lollies do not contain any milk products. We also love to add in skittles, chupa chups (the non-milky ones), gummy bears, sour worms, musk sticks, bananas, red skins and mentos. Gelatine based confectionary are generally the mostly allergy friendly for a dairy(milk)/peanut allergy. Of course – the most obvious option is to have party favours or small toys (think bubbles, puzzles, lego etc) – they are a great way to minimise sugar intake and pose no risk to most children with allergies and intolerances!
A lot of our friends/school mums will keep the food packaging aside so I am able to view it and double check the ingredients. Sometimes the party host may feel a huge responsibility in identifying the allergy foods and serving them without the overview of the main carer. My children are both severely allergic (anaphylactic) to certain things, so I am always grateful for the extra care people take to help accommodate them.
I should also add birthday cakes can also be an area where allergy children miss out. It is always nice to have an alternative for the children who are allergic to cake, either touch base with the parent prior to the party and work out what could be suitable or whether or not the parent themselves can bring an alternative allergy friendly dessert along. I am always happy to help where I can!”
Diagnosing Food Allergies
If your child has a severe reaction to a particular food, you should immediately seek medical advice. However, if you see a mild to moderate reaction from your child when they eat a specific food, we encourage you to take a photo of the response, document what happened, what they ate and seek medical advice from your GP or paediatrician. A mild to moderate reaction may include hives, a rash, swollen lips, face or eyes, tingling or itchy mouth, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhoea as well as possible nose congestion.
If your child presents with any of the above reactions, discuss this with your GP, and they may suggest testing for a food allergy. Testing for a food allergy can be a blood test, oral food challenge or a skin prick test. An oral food test is when your child is fed the certain food, they had the reaction to in a controlled and safe environment. Nurses and medical staff will observe and care for your child and see if an allergic reaction occurs. This test can cause anaphylaxis, so it should only be conducted with medical professionals. A skin prick test is when your child's skin is pricked by an instrument that looks like a toothpick with a drop of a specific allergen. If hives appear where your child has been pricked, your child probably has that allergy.
With that in mind, it's essential to be mindful of children with food allergies, not only at childcare but in all settings. If you have a child with a food allergy and would like to discuss how we at Genius Childcare can assist them in a caring and inclusive environment, feel free to contact us. Or, if you would like to discuss how you can be more mindful of other children's needs while attending our childcare centres near you, we encourage you to raise each and every one of your concerns with a member of our friendly team.