For school aged kids as well as their families, the start of a new school year is a time of change and new beginnings. Moving up a grade, unfamiliar teachers, different classmates, and new extra-curricular activities all mean that excitement, transition, and sometimes challenges lie ahead. Being in a new classroom means that dietary needs will need to be communicated to teachers and often classmates too. The same goes for other adults involved in the new school year’s activities, such as coaches and band leaders. As parents and caregivers, our inclination is to pave the way for our gluten-free kids, so obstacles along the way are minimized. And of course this is important, especially for younger kids. But at the same time, gluten-free kids need to feel empowered and equipped with both the knowledge and confidence to speak up for themselves. After all, we want our kids to feel comfortable managing their gluten-free diet for years to come, so think of the new school year as a stepping stone and training ground. While removed from the security and more controlled food environment of home, school still provides a relatively known (at least after the first few weeks!) and secure environment.
As a parent, especially if your child will be attending a new school or is newly gluten-free, it is ideal to communicate in advance. Check in with school administrators, food service, and teachers about your child’s need for a gluten-free diet. Each family, child and school is different, so assess your situation and take the approach which seems right for your family. Verbal in-person communication is meaningful and is always a good start, but it is also important to provide written information to teachers and school staff. The following “letters to teacher” and “school trip letter” can be downloaded, personalized for your child, printed and delivered to school staff, teachers, coaches, etc.
It may be useful to provide the following documents as well:
Finally if a more official approach seems right for your child and situation, learn about the option to submit a 504 Plan here.
No matter how well teachers and other school staff have been informed and educated, gluten-free kids also need to be confident and comfortable explaining their dietary needs when on their own at school. There may be substitute teachers, parent helpers and others in the school environment who have never heard of a gluten-free diet, or if they have, are not fully aware of important details such as the need to avoid cross-contamination. If all this is something new for your child, help him or her prepare a short “talk” about their dietary needs so they are not caught by surprise and can confidently explain and manage their situation. This will be useful not only in school, but at friends’ parties and other occasions too.
So pave the way for your gluten-free child as this new school year begins, but at the same time prepare them to handle the unexpected bumps along the way. Their confidence in living gluten-free will continue to grow and next year’s “bumps” will likely seem just a little bit smaller.
Has your child joined GIG’s Generation GF yet?
They will join over 2,000 kids from every state in the U.S., and receive a special kids magazine 3 – 4 times a year. Membership is free. www.gluten.org/product/kids-membership/. To find out if there is a Generation GF group in your area, click here: www.gluten.org/community/local-branches/. To start your own group or with any questions, contact GenerationGF@gluten.org.
Generation GF is designed to build confidence in kids, teens, and young adults, and help develop them into the future leaders of our gluten-free community.