August 19, 2013

Guest Column: Back to School with Sodium Girl

Jessica Goldman
By Jessica Goldman

As a kid, August meant two things: rushing to finish my summer reading list (ugh) and back to school shopping (yes!). And when I say shopping, I don’t mean buying jeans or the coolest new light up high tops. I’m talking supplies: multi-colored pens, neon colored notebooks, crisp lined paper, maybe even a protractor and a calculator. Or three. Yes, I was a total nerd.

But now, as an adult, I realize my enthusiasm for back to school shopping resulted from more than a love for paper goods and writing utensils. It came from the delight in creativity (remember those colored pens?) and the commitment to have fun while making preparations for the year ahead.

Which brings me to this big point -- to live a full life with a chronic illness, at any age, requires a lot of energy, forethought, and yes, preparation. And going back to school is no exception to the rule. So as you or your kids get ready for pre-K to college, it’s important to approach your medical and health needs with the same zeal as those neon notebooks; to involve your young students in the process; and above all, to make it fun.

Parent Teacher Student Meeting

You don’t have to wait until Halloween to meet with school staff. Teachers usually return a week or so before the first day to set up classrooms and prepare for the year ahead. So whether you call the office or stop by to set up a meeting, make sure to get some one-on-one time before the first bell rings.

And of course, don’t feel limited to the homeroom teacher. Invite anyone who needs to be aware of your child’s needs (like the PE teacher, the school nurse, head of the cafeteria). And remember to make it fun! Bring cookies and milk, tea and sandwiches, or perhaps something special for the homeroom. Simple gestures like this help create a positive working relationship for the months and years to come.

Show and Tell

Before you can ask for help, it is essential to know what you need. So make a date with your child or teen to talk about the challenges of school (whether it is a special diet, the need to leave early for doctors appointments, or telling the other kids about their condition). And most importantly, figure out ways (together!) to overcome each one.

For younger kids, a big poster board and stickers help to literally map out this “big picture” approach and strategies. Or for a more involved crafts project, write your own story book about living with lupus that can be read to the class.

As for teens and young adults, give them the reins as much as possible. Such as helping them write notes to their teachers, creating special protocol sheets for different health circumstances, or organizing medical info folders for the essential staff. Need more artsy inspiration? Check out these food allergy tattoos.

It’s just one of many creative solutions that make taking care of medical challenges easy and fun.

Meet, Play, Love

The classmates in your child’s life are just as important as the school staff. And getting to be like the other kids -- participating in play dates and sleepovers -- is a huge part of staying healthy and happy. So it is important to get other parents involved, so that both you and your child have the support and confidence you need.

But these conversations don’t have to be dull. Again, THINK FUN. Invite everyone over for an afternoon, and while the kids pretend to be dinosaurs or space warriors, break the ice with the moms and dads by serving up lemonade and treats. Then let them know the kinds of things your child would need during a playdate or sleepover, gauge their comfort with these requests, invite their own suggestions, and of course always express your appreciation for their support. Because when you welcome others into your world with enthusiasm, they’ll be excited to play along.

As for teens and college students, make use of social networks! Encourage them to use Facebook and Twitter to find peers (beyond their classroom) with the same health needs. The exchange of online support will not only help them feel a part of greater community but will also generate new ideas on how to live a full, healthy life.

For more special diet, low-sodium advice, recipes, and adventures, visit And pick up a copy of Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere books are sold.

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