Authors: Dr. Leslie Roos and Dr. Jennifer Protudjer
The dog days of summer are here and for many families, that means preparing for a new routine as kids’ head back to school.
New routines, or the resumption of routines that were temporarily halted by summer vacation, can lead to kids feeling worried and stressed during this time.
Anxiety and Mental Health
Anxiety surfaces in children the same way as it does in adults and can arise when dealing with things that are unknown, like a new school or teacher; things that are out of one’s control, like taking the bus for the first time; and uncertainties of what to expect.
During the back to school transition, anxiety may persist for weeks after children have had their first day, or week and may impact daily functions, including changes in sleep, a loss of appetite, tantrums and acting out.
As parents and caregivers, it’s helpful to listen to your child and provide support to their feelings, even if just as a listening ear.
If your child expresses concern, hear them out and refrain from using language that minimizes their feelings. Saying to a child “It’s not a big deal”, “Don’t worry about it”, or “You’ve done this before”, may cause the anxiety to persist for longer. Instead, show your support by lowering expectations (e.g. help to tie their shoes), and give lots of praise for small accomplishments each day. With time and patience, anxiety levels will reduce as your child settles into their new schedule.
Managing Food Allergies at School
An additional school transition concern for parents of children with food allergies is how to prepare their child and implement plans to keep their child safe from allergic reactions to foods at school.
Dr. Elinor Simons, Assistant Professor and Clinician Scientist, Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at the University of Manitoba, and CHRIM Researcher, says “an atmosphere of mutual respect can greatly contribute to the long-term safety of children with food allergies (and all children) in the classroom.”
Prevention is key to avoiding any reaction, so children should be encouraged to share their ideas, stories and games, rather than their food. As parents and caregivers for children with food allergies, it’s best to send enough food for the entire day, and even an extra snack that you know your child will enjoy without risk of an allergic reaction.
Other tips include washing of hands, wiping down eating areas and similar places.
Additional discussions with the school teacher and principal are encouraged to make sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of understanding the allergy, and signs and symptoms of a food allergic reaction.
In Winnipeg, parents of children with a food allergy should be in contact with their child’s URIS (Unified Referral Intake System) to ensure that there is record of the child having food allergy, and so the school is aware.
If children are younger, parents may wish to also have open and respectful discussions with other parents with regard to food allergy. Children who are mature enough to carry their own epinephrine autoinjector (such as an EpiPen®) are encouraged to carry it on their person (such as in a pouch around their waist, or a cross-body bag). If children are not yet ready to carry an autoinjector on their person, this should be with them in their backpack, or a well-known, and easily accessible place in the school that is close to the student. (A locker or locked office is not recommended.) Families may wish to also leave a second autoinjector at school, again in a well-known, and easily accessible place, and which accompanies children on field trips.