Why Don’t We
Just Ban Peanuts (and Nuts) At School?
Having your doctor say
that your child or someone in your care has a life-threatening allergy
is a very intimidating and scary thing. Once we get over that
shock, other questions come to our minds such as: How do we
cope with this? How can we keep our child safe? How can we
help others understand, raise their awareness and get their cooperation?
In this article, I will outline why I think bans on foods do not
work for the benefit of our children, their friends or the school.
One of the keys to living
with life-threatening allergies is dealing with the issues of control
and fear. I think these two issues are at the root of asking
for food bans. In preschool days, we can generally control
the child’s food and environment, which is comfortable for parents.
Of course, there is always an underlying fear of a reaction occurring.
However, at school and other settings, there are many things we
cannot control and we are naturally concerned about the child being
safe. We need to learn what is controllable and achievable,
take the necessary precautions and not let fear take over.
First, we must
teach our child about the allergy and help him/her learn the skills
they need to keep themselves safe. This is a gradual process.
They must learn that it’s their allergy and that the world will
not necessarily change to accommodate them. They need to learn
to take precautions, to get others’ cooperation and understanding,
and accept that they can live a normal life. An individualized,
physician prescribed treatment plan will help them to understand
the emergency procedures and feel more in control. Handling
the allergy should be like any other issue in a child’s life...offering
the most protection when young and teaching them to be more independent
and responsible as they get older.
Second, we parents
must become teachers and advocates. There is quite a learning curve
to truly understanding the impact of this allergy, especially for
those not living with it. Try to imagine learning about living with
diabetes. The information will be repeated many times in many
different venues. Doing just one presentation at school is
not enough. Lots of diplomacy and patience are needed because
change is difficult for most of us. We as parents must also be flexible,
recognizing that there is no one strategy or policy which works
for every child and school. It will take discussion and negotiation.
Through education, we can build understanding, cooperation and encourage
a "village" mentality that will help others, particularly classmates,
want to make the necessary changes which will make the environment
Here are some reasons
for not banning peanuts and nuts for the whole school (although
I believe that there need to be provisions for peanut/nut-free areas
of an elementary school):
- There is no such
thing as a “peanut/nut-free” school. You can never guarantee
that a school doesn't have peanuts or nuts without bodily searching
everyone and everything all the time. This has been attempted
with very negative results. Even then, kids can have peanut butter
on their hands from breakfast at home. We can’t assume
that any place is free of peanuts and nuts.
gives everyone a feeling of false security, which in turn encourages
complacency in the school about dealing with life-threatening
allergies. The kids with allergies can become lax about
the precautions they need to take because they think they are
in a “safe” environment. Parents may think their job of
educating and raising awareness (in their children and the school)
is no longer necessary. School staff will direct their attention
to other higher profile concerns.
- When a ban goes
into place, often the energy and effort moves from educating and
raising awareness to enforcing the ban. A ban can also
single out the children with allergies and make them susceptible
to bullying. The children need to learn to “fit in” and
have self-confidence, and not let their identity revolve around
having the allergy. This will help them handle bullies and
avoid being targets for bullies.
- Telling people
they can't have something because of a few is antagonistic to
many parents and uncomfortable for the school. Generally
our generation does not react well to the word "BAN". When banning
has been implemented, it usually takes about a year for the backlash
to develop. By then, it becomes very difficult to retreat
to a more “middle-of-the-road” approach because the parents who
are upset are unwilling to listen or cooperate.
- There are other
life-threatening triggers such as milk, wheat or eggs, which would
be impossible to ban. Where do you stop? The school must meet
many needs, often from competing agendas. We must be sympathetic
to what the administrators have to deal with. We will get
better cooperation if we ask for things which can be implemented
with a reasonable amount of effort, while accomplishing what we
- A continuing awareness
program brings protection. Non-allergic children will often
be more cooperative than their parents and offer to avoid bringing
peanut/nut items if it means that those items could harm a friend.
They will be protective and more self-regulating than if we rely
on a ban to “force” compliance. In turn, the children will be
more aware of others with different needs, and will take their
awareness into adulthood with them. However, this education
effort must start early. By Grade 6, some kids are bringing
in cigarettes and drugs, so convincing them not to bring peanuts
probably will not be effective.
You can get a good start
on starting an awareness program by getting handouts and materials
to help you. Many of these are available at the Calgary Allergy
Network web site at http://www.calgaryallergy.ca or at your local
allergy/asthma association. Another excellent reference is a
publication by the Canadian School Boards Association called “Anaphylaxis:
A Handbook for School Boards”. You can download
a free copy or order one by calling (613) 235-3724 or email admin@CdnSBA.org.
It presents a balanced approach for starting an allergy awareness
policy in your school.
- The kids with
allergies must gradually learn to “own” their allergy and take
responsibility for the precautions for safely handling their allergy.They
will never live in a peanut/nut free world and they must learn
to live with it. Junior and Senior high schools will
not be as accommodating as their elementary school. School
is a good place for them to gradually learn the survival skills
they will need. The environment is supervised by adults,
and emergency help is not far away if needed. As they get
older, they will get used to wearing MedicAlert®
ID, carrying their EpiPen® (as prescribed by their
treatment plan), and to explaining their allergy to others and
asking for their cooperation. By the time they are teenagers,
these precautions will be a natural part of their life.
That acceptance will help them resist peer pressure and be more
comfortable about having the allergy. Their friends will
also have a better understanding of the precautions needed to
make their friend safe.
items is not the answer for dealing with life-threatening allergies.
Peanut butter is not only a traditional food, but it is an economic
necessity for many families. It won’t disappear from the lunch
menu. We must prepare our children to live in the real world
while providing a “safety cushion” at school to help them learn
the skills they need to live a long, healthy life with their allergy.
Let’s work towards helping our schools become “peanut/nut-safe
and allergy aware.”
Wiebe is the parent of a child with peanut allergy and an AAIA volunteer.
support and information in Canada:
Allergy/Asthma Information Association (AAIA)
Box 100, Toronto, Ontario M9W 5K9
Phone (416) 679-9521 or 1-800-611-7011 Fax: (416) 679-9524
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Consult your family physician or allergist for specific questions