Here in Australia, we have plenty of childcare options to choose from, with excellent programs, facilities, and regulations. For many of us, choosing a childcare comes down to proximity – what centres are closest to home and work? But for parents whose children suffer from allergies, the choice of where to send their child for day care can be a little more complicated.
Allergy symptoms can range from mild digestive discomfort to more immediate and serious concerns, like anaphylaxis. This can be especially concerning for parents when their little one is too young to communicate how they are feeling.
Rest assured, though, if you’re tackling this issue, you’re not the only one. These days, food allergies are extremely common among children, particularly peanuts, eggs, wheat and dairy. An estimated 1.9% of 4-year old children are allergic to peanuts, followed closely by 1.2% who are allergic to eggs.
As a result, many child care centres already have policies and procedures in place to prevent issues, such as a blanket rule of no peanuts or eggs. It’s unlikely that your little one will be the first allergy sufferer to pass through the doors.
So, if your child has allergies, how can you help make the transition easier for you, your child, and their care providers?
Get Clear on an Allergy Policy
The key to reducing the chance of exposure for your child is ensuring their childcare centre has an appropriate food allergy policy in place. This should include guidelines for parents on what food they should avoid bringing, food labelling, cleaning, staff training, activities that require extra precaution, and more. A clear policy will help you feel confident that your child is in good hands.
Talk to Your Child
Depending on the age and development of your child, you can make the transition much easier for them by communicating with them things like:
- The importance of washing hands before and after eating
- Not sharing food with other kids
- What foods and surfaces they should be careful to avoid
- Only eating food that has been prepared at home
- How it is normal to feel sad or left out, and they can always talk to you about it
- How you are there to help them and keep them safe
- Recognising early symptoms of a reaction and who to tell
Your little one is, of course, a person deserving of respect, even if they can’t use their words to tell you exactly what they’re thinking and feeling. Where possible, avoid treating them differently, isolating them, or stigmatising them.
Talk to Your Child’s Carers
The staff and helpers want only the best care for your child. They should be open to hearing your concerns and accommodating your needs to keep everybody safe. Keep a record of contact details for anybody you might need to talk to about your concerns.
It could be worth sitting down for a meeting before your child starts, and then regular meetings to discuss improvements and updates with your child’s situation.
Here are some questions you might ask your child’s carers:
- Are there any other kids here with allergies?
- What first aid training do the staff have?
- What are your policies for food sharing, even for events like birthdays?
- How and where is food stored?
- Are there rules about what other parents can bring in?
- Have you had any incidents with other children experiencing a reaction? If so, how did you deal with the situation?
- If something were to happen, what would you do? When and how would you get in contact with me?
- What is the best way to contact you if I have any concerns?
Communicate with Other Parents
Unfortunately, no matter how careful your Day Care providers are, other parents could still unintentionally wander in with food on their clothes or hands. They could really benefit from some gentle education to help them get to know your child as a person whose safety they can and should also be responsible for.
You could write a letter with your child’s photo, explaining the situation. Ask staff to distribute the letter to all current and future parents of children at the centre. This will help them see your child for who they are (a little person who needs some extra care) and may even make them more comfortable to ask you questions or invite your child to events (like birthday parties) outside of the centre.
Worry Is Normal
Most parents will have mixed feelings about leaving their child in someone else’s care, especially the first few times. Your child might feel anxious as well, especially if they’ve never spend an extended amount of time away from you. Feeling worried or afraid is normal, and you shouldn’t try to downplay your feelings or your child’s.
Acknowledge how you are feeling and take steps to help you feel more comfortable about the transition and experience for you both. Keeping open communication between everyone will go a long way in keeping your child safe and your worries at ease.
Trust and Let Go
As a parent, it can be so hard to let go of your child and trust that they will be okay. Know that you have done everything possible to keep them safe. Your child’s carers will do their absolute best to take amazing care of your child so that you don’t need to worry.
In the unlikely event that something does happen, you will be informed and able to be there for your child in no time at all.
That said, if at any stage, you feel as though you and your child are not supported or safe, trust your instincts. You should not be made to feel as though you or your child are inconveniencing the centre or aren’t to be taken seriously. Find a provider who you can trust, who listens to your concerns, and takes every possible safety measure to help you and your child feel as and at ease.
Most parents find that childcare centres are extremely accommodating and vigilant about ensuring their child does not ingest or come into contact with a substance or food that could cause problems. You may still feel stressed about leaving your child somewhere they will need to eat without you nearby, but in time, you’ll develop good relationships with your child’s carers and trust that they will take excellent care of your little one.
Over to you now… if you already have a child in day care (or even school) who suffers from allergies, what are your tips for helping make the transition easier for everyone? We’d love to hear about your experience.