Feeling a bit panicky at the thought of your Celiac child going off to school? Parental anxiety is very natural considering the amount of precautions you take to keep your child gluten-free at home. What will your child eat for lunch? What about classmates’ birthdays and gluten-filled birthday treats? Will other children make fun of your child? Will teachers and attendants understand the condition and make allowances?
Teach your child to get control of his or her diet from a young age. Explain why they must steer clear of certain foods and refuse those foods politely even if offered.
This meeting should ideally be held before the beginning of the school year so you can educate your child’s teachers, school nurse and the principal about your child’s condition and precautions that need to be followed. If possible, distribute typed out material or ready leaflets about the Celiac condition and gluten-free
diet. Impress on them the bad effects caused by the accidental eating of gluten. Give them your phone number in case they need to contact you with a query or have a doubt.
If your child will be eating school lunches make sure to talk to the dietician or person in charge. Discuss menu plans and the foods that are banned for your child and whether they can provide alternative options. If you feel the person understands, provide them an opportunity to cater to your child’s special diet. Inform them of the importance of using clean utensils and uncontaminated surfaces for preparing gluten-free meals. Or you can provide your child a lunch from home to allay your anxieties. Explain to your child why she cannot share the food of her classmates and how to explain to her friends her special condition. If there are lunchtime monitors explain to them why your child must not swap food with friends.
Most teachers will provide you with a list of their pupils’ birthdays. Then you can coordinate with the other children’s parents or provide your child her own special gluten-free treat so she won’t feel left out. For school picnics supply your child with her own delicious gluten-free treats. For surprise events provide the class teacher with a stash of gluten-free treats and candy that can be easily stored so she can hand it out to your child when the other children are munching on their treats.
If you are going to send a birthday treat for your child’s classmates on her birthday, please keep in mind not everyone may like gluten-free baked goodies. It might be advisable to send popular candy that everyone likes. Be aware that other children may have allergies to peanuts or lactose and provide candy accordingly.
Many teachers limit the restroom trips of children in their class and prefer them to go in the breaks. Explain to your child’s teacher why your child should be absolutely allowed to visit the restroom whenever needed. Possibly the teacher and your child can work out some signal so your child can visit the restroom without asking verbally – which she might find embarrassing if she needs to go frequently.
It may happen that the teacher forgets to hand your child a special treat on someone’s birthday or a parent forgets to send your child a gluten-free treat on her child’s birthday. Take these incidents in your stride and accept the fact that sometimes other people are busy or forgetful and did not intentionally mean to exclude your child. Explain this to your child as well – it will teach her to be ready for other incidents in future of which there would be many. Teach her to smile and decline graciously when offered food and know that other people mean well even if they might not always remember about her condition.