If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says
on the aspirin bottle: Take two aspirin and Keep away
The transition from summer to back-to-school is paradoxical. On one hand,
summer means sleeping in, adventuresome vacations, evenings free of homework
and obligatory assignments, and a chance for parents to take pleasure
in their kids carefree, relaxed summer schedule (or lack thereof). On
the other hand, mantras like, Im bored, Are we there
yet? Theres nothing to do here, and the non-stop sibling
bickering that seems to escalate when one child dares to breathe the same
air as another has some parents singing, Its the most wonderful
time of the year a good four months before Christmas.
But its not always the most wonderful time of the year. For parents whose
children cant eat gluten, sending kids to school can create an entirely
new dimension of anxiety that extend far beyond the typical back-to-school
blues: What will he eat for lunch? What if there are birthday parties
and my child cant participate? Will kids make fun of him? Will the teacher
take time to understand his condition? What if he eats the Play Doh? How
can I make this easier for him?
This is harder on you than it is on your child
If your child is newly diagnosed with celiac
disease, or is new to the gluten-free diet, I know youre thinking, Oh,
no its not! She just doesnt understand how hard this is. When
I speak at conferences and tell parents this is harder on them than it
is on their kids, I inevitably have one or two - always the parents of
newly diagnosed celiac kids - who respectfully (and usually
temperamentally) disagree. They tell me I dont understand.
Believe me, I do understand. But also believe
me that this is harder on you than it is your child. Its harder, because
of the very nature of being a parent. We love our kids so intensely that
every pain they experience hurts us ten times more. Nothing breaks our
hearts more than to know that our children may experience heartache. But
remember, one of our most important jobs as parents is to teach our children
how to deal with unpleasant experiences and emotions. As Anne Bronte said,
If you would have your son to walk honorably through the world,
you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him
to walk firmly over them.
Tips to make it easier
- Give your child control of his diet.
Yep, even if hes just two years old. Anyone who has heard me speak
or has read either of my books knows that Im an absolute nag about
telling you to give your child control of his diet, because if he doesnt
control his diet, his diet will control him.
- Educate your teachers and principal.
Set a meeting with your childs teacher(s) and principal to explain
your childs condition and diet. The best time to do this is a day or
two before school starts for the year. The teachers are usually at school
setting up their classrooms, but theyre not yet distracted with new
students, parents, and classroom responsibilities. Provide the teachers,
principal, and the school nurse, if you have one, with clear, concise
written materials explaining celiac disease and your childs diet. Some
people find it helpful to give the book Kids
with Celiac Disease to the school, so that the nurse, teachers,
and principal can more thoroughly understand the condition and diet.
Make sure they understand the severity of accidental gluten ingestion.
Remind them that they should contact you if there are any questions,
rather than taking a chance.
- Lunches: use good judgment.
Most of the time, the people in charge of preparing food for children
in a preschool or school setting are already used to dealing with lactose
intolerance, peanut allergies, and other dietary restrictions. Talk
to the dietitian or person in charge of food preparation. Go over the
menu plans, discuss the foods your child can and cant have, and talk
about the importance of using clean utensils to avoid cross-contamination.
If you feel comfortable with the persons understanding and acceptance
of the diet, give them the opportunity to accommodate your childs special
diet. You always have the option of sending in your own meals if you
think its not working out. If you are interested in your childs legal
rights to reduced-cost school lunches, see Kids
with Celiac Disease under Section 504.
- Talk to the adult lunchtime supervisors.
Kids will swap food. Its an age-old tradition, and its not likely
to stop with your child. Aside from the likelihood of getting gluten,
your child may end up hungry. Sometimes your childs goodies are better
than the other childs, and it makes your child so proud that shell
gladly give them all away, to be left with nothing. So the best you
can do is explain to your child why she cant trade food with her buddies,
and make sure the lunch area monitors are keeping an eye out for swappers.
- Out of snack and lunch ideas? See Kids
with Celiac Disease.
Its loaded with snack and menu ideas, many of which travel well in
lunch boxes and bags.
- Give the teacher a stash of gluten-free treats.
A large bag of Halloween-sized individually wrapped candies works well,
and because theyre individually wrapped, the teacher can keep them
in a cupboard without the threat of ant invasions. Let the teacher know
that these treats are to be used any time there is a special event during
which treats will be served. Make sure the treats are your childs favorite;
you dont want him feeling like hes being short-changed.
- Get a schedule of classmates birthdays and scheduled holiday parties.
Teachers are glad to provide you with a listing of everyones birthdays.
This way you know in advance when there will be parties. You can coordinate
with the other childs parent, or send your child in with her own cupcake
or treat. If theres a surprise event, your child always has the stash
of candy youve given the teacher.
- On your childs birthday, bring a popular gluten-free treat for
the entire class.
Its best not to risk celebrating your childs birthday with gluten-free
cupcakes. Its possible that everyone in your childs class might like
your homemade gluten-free cupcakes. On the other hand, there may be
one kid who, for whatever reason, takes one bite and spits it across
the classroom, declaring, What IS this stuff? You can bet
your child wont forget that incident for a very long time. Its best
not to risk it. Instead, bring in ice cream bars or ice cream sundaes.
Or, if you cant do frozen foods, bring cutely decorated candy bars
or goodie bags filled with candy (brands that everyone knows). It will
bring your child immense pleasure to share treats with the class that
she can eat too (and kids like that stuff better than cupcakes anyway!).
Of course, you will want to be sensitive to any of your childs classmates
who might have peanut or other allergies, and choose treats that everyone
in the class can enjoy.
- Ask for liberal restroom privileges.
Many teachers restrict the number of times children are allowed to go
to the restroom, or they ask children to wait until a more appropriate,
less disruptive time. Let the teacher know that your childs condition
may require a hasty trip to the restroom, and that he should under no
circumstances be restricted from going. You may even want to establish
a little code between your child and her teacher, so that
he can inconspicuously dismiss himself. Its a little less embarrassing
than having to ask.
- Consider talking to the parents at the parents-only back-to-school
Most schools have a back-to-school night for parents only. This is a
great time to talk to the other parents about your childs condition
and diet. Not only will you be helping them to understand and accommodate
your childs diet, but you will be educating dozens more people about
celiac disease - something we should all be doing on a regular basis.
Dont be mad when people dont accommodate your childs diet.
Its going to happen. Someone will have surprise treats for the class
that your child cant eat, and the teachers secret stash
will be empty. Or someone will decide its baking day, and
your child will be the only one not sampling the goods. Dont be annoyed,
offended, or angry. These people arent intentionally trying to leave
your child out, nor are they being insensitive. They simply forget sometimes!
Most importantly, remember that your child is learning from your reactions.
He will be in situations like this for the rest of his life - teach him
to be gracious, politely declining the treats offered to him, and to accept
the fact that this is just one of those little stones in his path of life
that hell need to learn to step over...with a smile and the knowledge
that people generally mean well.