Being the parent of a child with asthma can be frightening. You may feel especially helpless when your son or daughter goes off to school. At home, you can control the environment to reduce the impact of asthma triggers and you know what to do in an emergency. But when your child is at school, you may feel as though your child's well-being is out of your control.
Even so, there's a lot parents can do to help control asthma in children at school. It's key that you work closely with the school's staff. With good planning and communication, you can be confident your child is safe.
Talking With School Staff About Your Child's Asthma
The first step is to talk to your child's teachers and other caregivers about dealing with asthma in your child at school. Since an asthma attack can happen at any time, everyone who is involved in the care of your child must know what to do. At the beginning of each school year, you should talk to your child's:
- Classroom teachers
- Gym, music, and art teachers
- School nurses
- Lunch aides
- Bus drivers
Here are some tips for talking to school staffers about your child's asthma:
- Share up-to-date information about asthma. Some of your child's school caregivers may have incorrect or out-of-date information about controlling asthma in children at school.
- Discuss how your child can get his or her medicine. Make it clear if your child can use the inhaler unsupervised or not. Schools have different policies on treating asthma in children at school. Some might allow your child to carry her medicine. Others may want it kept with the school nurse. Be sure all the necessary paperwork regarding medicine at school has been completed by the pediatrician.
- Explain what your child's triggers are. Ask for help in limiting your child's exposure to them. For instance, if your son is allergic to pollen, it may be better for him to spend recess inside on days when the pollen count is high. Science experiments, classroom pets, chalk dust, renovations, or even the perfume of another student could also cause problems.
- Explain what your child can and can't do. If your daughter has her asthma under control, make this clear. If her teacher is unnecessarily overprotective, your daughter could feel singled out and embarrassed.
- Mention that occasional absences may be necessary during asthma flare-ups.
- Mention that on field trips, the inhaler should be taken by your child and/or a plan should be made to make sure she gets her medication.
If your child has just been diagnosed, you may feel hesitant about making special requests of teachers. But remember that many children have asthma. The staff has almost certainly already dealt with asthma in other students. At the same time, be careful not to make excessive demands of your child's teachers. That could just make them uncooperative. Instead, stress that you're trying to work with them, not just tell them what to do.
Have an Asthma Action Plan at School for Your Child
Everyone with asthma -- whether a child or an adult -- should have an asthma action plan. This is a written document that outlines the treatment needed if asthma gets worse. Make sure your child's school has an up-to-date copy of their asthma action plan at all times.
Your child's asthma action plan should include:
- Your child's name
- Your name and home phone number, and work and cell phone numbers, if you have them
- The name and number of a family member or friend who can step in if you can't be reached
- A list of triggers that cause asthma symptoms in your child
- A list of medicines and dosages -- and specific instructions on when they should be used
- Your pediatrician's name and phone number
- The name and number of your local hospital
If your child is very young, his asthma action plan may include his personal best peak flow meter reading.
Talking to Your Child About Asthma at School
Don't forget to talk to your child about coping with asthma at school too. Obviously, there's only so much that very young children can understand about their asthma. But at the very least, they must know what to do if their symptoms get worse. They need to know where to get help.
Older children and teenagers should take more responsibility for their treatment. Make sure they know how to use their medicines, inhalers, and peak flow meters on their own.
Keep in mind that children and teenagers with asthma can be resentful. They may not like the restrictions that asthma puts on their lives. They may be ashamed by the extra attention it can bring them at school.
There's no way around some of these problems. The best thing you can do is to be honest. Try to make your children partners in their own care, instead of just imposing treatment on them.