Safety and Compassion for Children with Peanut Allergy

As I sent my son off to kindergarten this morning, I thought, I hope he has a good day. I hope he listens well and that he has fun with his friends.
I did not think…I hope no one accidentally brings peanuts into school, and god forbid…he goes into anaphylactic shock. I hope he doesn’t die today.

That thought would be paralyzing to me. No, I am not being overly dramatic here. This is a reality for many parents. I can only imagine the agonizing thoughts in a mother’s head who has a child with severe peanut allergy.

So, you can imagine my surprise and disdain when I heard about these parents from a Florida elementary school who were protesting the safety precautions this school has in place for a child with severe peanut allergy.

We are talking about a 6 year old girl, in first grade. A child who could potentially die if exposed to even a trace amount of peanut. A child who in my opinion, has a “hidden disability”. A child who should feel safe in school and be given the same opportunity to learn inside a classroom along with her friends.

The school is doing the right thing. The parents protesting? They are not. For me, the very basic question, what if it were your child?, plays over and over in my head. Where is the empathy, the compassion? And, what are they teaching their own children about friendship, about helping others, about empathy?

It saddens me to see this child and others like her singled out. She already has to sit at a separate table for lunches, must avoid special birthday treats during celebrations, and must already know the dire consequences of eating the wrong food at such a tender age.

I know of many parents who felt the only safe option was pulling their child out of school and home schooling them. Not only because they feared a deadly allergic reaction, they’ve also had to deal with their child being bullied. Bullied simply because they have a food allergy.

In my opinion, those parents protesting are partaking in a from of bullying. It is so disheartening.

The very least we (pediatricians, parents, schools, and teachers) can do is take simple precautionary measures. Measures such as hand washing, not bringing peanut products into the classroom, and having a food allergy action plan in place.

Most of all, we can show some compassion, and by doing so…we are teaching it as well.

What has been your experience with food allergies and school?

12 Responses to Safety and Compassion for Children with Peanut Allergy
  1. adriel, from the mommyhood memos
    April 1, 2011 | 8:58 am

    Yes, I completely agree. Of course it would be convenient to be able to send my kids to school with PB&Js… but not at the expense of another child's life. It's so sad how inward and selfish we can get. How often do we really just need to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are genuinely in need so that we can better understand where they're coming from??! Those critical parents obviously haven't done that or else they would feel very differently. Also, I like that you called it a "hidden disability" because that's what it is – an invisible killer. Why wouldn't we as parents want to do everything we can to support one another and care for the well-being of each others kids? This is a well-spoken post, and an opinion that I believe needs to be shared and talked about so that more parents understand the severity of what is at stake.

  2. Cheryl D.
    April 1, 2011 | 9:03 am

    This is a tough issue. Severe peanut allergies are extremely dangerous and scary. My daughter has a severe tree nut allergy, particularly to cashews. But she's fine with peanuts! Are challenge is that she can't sit at the allergy tables when she goes to camp. The kids that eat there are primarily peanut allergies. So, she wouldn't be able to eat her peanut butter sandwiches, but the other kids around her could be eating cashew butter sandwiches. Because of this, my daughter just sits with other kids and knows she can't let them share with her.

    I had the same problem at her preschool. It was a no peanut school. But kids could bring other nut butters. When I asked the director if we could at least restrict cashew butter, this was met with some protest.

    I have to carry around 2 epipens if my daughter inadvertently gets exposed to cashews. She can have a horrible reaction. But the school director said choices have to be made. They can't accommodate all allergies.

    April 1, 2011 | 5:36 pm

    hey guess what? this is weird, but i just wanted to say you used to be one of my only followers, and then a while back i switched to wordpress, right before i was featured on scarymommy. i was at
    now i'm at

  4. Making It Work Mom
    April 1, 2011 | 8:36 pm

    I completely agree! There was actually an incident today at one of my daycare centers. The centers are completely peanut free. In fact we don't even allow families to bring in food from home (except in the case of extreme allergies) so that we can be sure all the children are protected.
    Today a parent dropped her child off in the classroom and left a Reese peanut butter cup wrapper on the top of the children's cubby (where children can reach). Imagine if a severely allergic child picked up that wrapper! It is scary to think about. Luckily the wrapper was found and we are planning a whole new round of parent letters to re-educate our parents about allergies.
    A sensitivity and compassion are needed.

  5. Cheryl
    April 1, 2011 | 9:40 pm

    A potentially deadly peanut allergy is a terrible thing. As I unfortunately know via my son. He sits at a peanut-free table where he is allowed to have one friend sit with him (there is a set of triplets from his class who are also there). And he is in a peanut-free class, which only means the kids have to wipe their hands before re-entering the classroom for lunch, and when they have parties the food has to be approved by myself and the mother of the triplets.

    When it rains and they have to eat in the classroom? There are definitely kids eating peanut butter.

    The school has told us they "can't" go peanut-free. Which of course is untrue, they just won't.

    Anyway. The best thing parents of allergic kids can do is educate people. No parent wants to see another child die because of their own child's sandwich. But there are those who don't believe it's really a problem, and of course, those with kids who will "only" eat peanut butter.

    Education. Education. Education.

  6. Dalia (Generation X Mom)
    April 2, 2011 | 10:56 am

    As a mom of a child with a nut allergy, I feel for this parent. I do worry each and every day that he will without even realizing it eat something that has nuts in it. He is now 13 and I still worry. I don't think I ever will stop. I do however think there is a time when kids need to stop relying on others to take care of this for them, to know the facts and take care of themselves, always be aware. That being said however these parents in this story were heartless and as you said without compassion. I can only imagine if it were their child.

  7. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr. Mom)
    April 2, 2011 | 11:48 am

    Yes, education is paramount, especially when elementary school aged children are concerned. I do see the value and importance of teaching children how to keep themselves safe especially since they will eventually be out there on their own. However, for elementary school? I definitely believe it is part of our job as a community to keep these young ones as safe as possible and if that means goint nut free? Yay! I'm all for it.

  8. Kristin
    April 2, 2011 | 8:54 pm

    My husband as a peanut allergy and I witnessed how severe it can get in college. So scary!

    We still have not given either of the girls any nut products but have had them (blood) tested and they were negative.

    I really wish there was more information on allergies. Should we introduce early and keep it up or avoid? It's so difficult to make an informed decision when there is so much confliting info!

    Thanks for posting. It's amazing how many people are still unaware of how dangerous food allergies can be.

  9. Ann
    April 3, 2011 | 11:37 am

    It is impossible to control the actions of other people. Schools can't do it, and neither can parents. Schools can put policies in place, but there is nothing that can force another parent to follow the policy and there is simply not enough personnel on campus to watch all day every day. A school can't dictate what another parent feeds their child, they can only make requests. It is unfortunate, but there are a whole lot of people who will not care about your child and their peanut allergy and so your best method of protection is to teach your child how to be safe.

    In elementary school, these policies are easier to enforce. One teacher, one classroom, 34 kids. They can set up a peanut-free lunch table that can be watched – with only 350 kids and one lunch period, that's not too hard. The teacher can control what comes into the class during parties, or at least prevent your own child from eating something they shouldn't.

    But speaking as a school employee, by the time they get to middle/high school, there is absolutely no way you can ensure the safety of your student against peanuts, no matter how much the school wants to help. It is impossible to watch a campus of thousands of children with one VP and one principal and one custodian to clean up. At that level, teachers have 150 kids a day or more. A peanut-free environment can't be done, even with the best intentions. I don't say this to make anybody upset – it's reality that you have to prepare for.

    The good news is medical professionals are finding that these blood tests are very inaccurate, and many kids tested as allergic are not at all. When your child is older, you might want to do a controlled test to find out for sure.

    Good luck! It's a scary problem but it will give you a false sense of safety if you rely on anybody but your own family to keep your child safe. It's sad but true, not all people will understand or care. Teach your child that unless Mom has made it, it's not to be touched, no exceptions. Make sure there is an epi pen in the classroom and your child and the teacher and the school secretary knows how to use it. The schools want to help and will do their best but they can't be 100% certain that no child is going to eat peanut butter around yours. Teaching your child what to do is really all you can do.

  10. The Twin Spin
    April 3, 2011 | 1:08 pm

    My husband and I just had a discussion about this poor girl. At first I was of the thought that it's not fair to keep her from school due to something she can't control. I don't think I have the organizational skills and perseverance to homeschool (although I would if I absolutely had to), and it's not fair that her education should be compromised due to this allergy. I too think the other parents are going to far in their picketing and bullying.

    One of my twins has a peanut allergy, although it is only level 2, and she will likely outgrow it. But looking at it from the eyes of a parent with a child with a peanut allergy, if my daughter's was that severe, I would be absolutely terrified to send her to school. Yes, they are washing hands, washing out mouths, but what if there's a day when they don't do it well enough? What if there's a day when a kid slips by them? And something happens, and she has a reaction? Or worse..dies? If I were her parent I think I would live in fear and anxiety each and every day, and THAT is what is not worth it to me.

  11. Lady Jennie
    April 4, 2011 | 12:06 pm

    I would be up in arms against those parents. That gets my nettle up so high that obnoxious lack of compassion.

    Wait should "obnoxious" and "compassion" be used in the same sentence?

    Seriously though.

  12. Marianne
    April 15, 2011 | 6:37 am

    My kids went to a peanut/tree nut free school. It was no big deal. We didn't NEED food for parties – the school nurse sent out a note about childhood obesity, and a list of allergy safe treats if you HAD to celebrate with food. School budgets are strapped – giving out cool pencils and extra erasers made the kids just as happy as cupcakes. The kids didn't care – they took it in stride because they cared about their classmates. I just do not understand these parents. Kids should be washing their hands all the time, and I would have gladly donated bottles of mouthwash. Ignorance and cruelty. Let's picket THAT.