Getting kids ready for school is hard for most parents but when you have a child with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the end of August / beginning of September can be especially difficult. I wanted to share some things that I recommend for caregivers of kids entering middle or high school with an inflammatory bowel disease.
It is important to remember that with the new school year approaching, there are a lot of unknowns for kids. These aren’t just about the new classrooms or schedules but there will most likely be new people, new teachers and new surroundings that a child or teenager needs to get adjusted to. While that is obviously the case for anyone during this time of year, it can be an especially anxiety provoking time for a person with IBD.
It would be helpful for you to make your child’s teacher (s) aware of the situation. Or, in many schools, if you speak to the principle they can handle that for you. There are special accommodations that can be made for the child depending on his/her needs which include allowing him/her to get up and use the restroom without the embarrassment of needing to ask, allowing absences to occur without punishment, and in general if teachers understand the situation that your child is going through they are likely to be more understanding and less likely to think your child is either slacking off or not performing well on exams or assignments because of “laziness” or some other inaccurate reason.
I highly, highly recommend asking your child’s school about a 504 plan which you can read more about here
I had this my senior year of high school, although it was something I should have had since I was diagnosed, and it made me feel like the school was more aware that I needed special accommodations. Basically, parents can sit down with the head of the school, the nurse, guidance counselor and one or two teachers (depending on the district/school) to discuss the specific needs of the child. The accommodations are specific to each person and discussed openly prior to the start of school, and I believe can be given once the school year begins (don’t quote me on the last part though.)
My accommodations were pretty much that I could leave class anytime I wanted to use the restroom, I was given the option to take tests in a different room than other students given that I may need to use the facilities, my teachers were understanding of my abscesses, I was permitted to eat and drink even if teachers didn’t allow others, and if I had to turn in work late, teachers were more understanding about it (not required to accept it, but sympathetic.)
This plan was carried with me through college so if schools see you had one in place during high school, they are more willing to accept it when your child moves on to continue their education.
One thing my mom always did which helped me a lot was take me around the school before the first day. If I wasn’t able to meet my teachers, that was okay but I needed to know where my locker was, and for the most part what each of my days were going to look like for the week. I liked knowing that during this period I would be farther away from the bathroom but then an hour later I was scheduled to be in a class that was very convenient for me. It helped me plan which put my mind at ease. And when I went to school to see my surroundings with my mom prior to the first day, it was a lot calmer and made me feel a lot more confident when I walked in that first day.
I am not a parent so I won’t pretend to know what it is like for those of you reading this that have children. But, I can offer you the IBD patient side of things since I probably understand a lot of what your child is going through.
The more uncertainty you can eliminate before that first day of school, the easier it will be on your child. My mom always tried to show me pictures of my teachers if I couldn’t meet them before the first day so I had an idea of who they were. And like I said, getting the lay of the land prior to school starting was incredibly helpful for me every year.
In terms of eating, I think it is different for everyone. I wouldn’t push your child to do anything he/she doesn’t feel comfortable with, especially in the beginning of the year. They are going to have to balance so many new things so the thought of eating in public might be frightening to them. Talk to your child beforehand. Ask them if there are certain foods that they feel comfortable eating for breakfast before heading out for the day. I am sure as a parent you know your child well and pretty much can gauge the things your child will and won’t eat but it never hurts to ask questions and check in every once and a while.
And most importantly, be an in tuned parent. Be someone your child can go to if they need you. Don’t judge them until you know what is really going on. Be a parent first and foremost but also be a friend. IBD is an emotionally and physically painful disease that can cause a lot of isolation too. It affects pretty much every aspect of a person’s life including the social aspect of it for many children and teenagers. Just be aware and try to be someone your child knows they can go to no matter what. You will be surprised how much that can be more helpful than anything.