Teach Your Child How to Deal with Food Allergy Bullies at School
Bullying is unacceptable behavior regardless of where it occurs, but children with food allergies have a personal perspective of what bullying feels like. As a parent of a food allergic child, don’t wait until your child experiences being bullied at school to teach them how to deal with it.
Among the 5.9 million children living with food allergies, 40% of them have suffered a life threatening reaction. About one-third of these children have experienced being bullied at school.
Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children and involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
Your child must understand the risk of his/her food allergy in a way that’s relevant to their age and ability to comprehend the danger. Children are often bullied when they are perceived as different from their peers. Living with food allergies differentiates children from the ‘norm’ and immediately puts kids at risk for being bullied. The degree to which this is true is impacted by your community (school, religious institutions, sports, and other recreational groups), how they perceive food allergies and whether or not they understand the real physical reactions a person can have to the allergen(s).
There are reported cases where children have been taunted at school by other children using allergens, such as touching the allergic child with the known allergen, contaminating their food, or throwing the allergen at them. It can happen on the school bus or in the school cafeteria or even walking home after school. Let your children know that these behaviors are not acceptable, and must not be tolerated. Validate their feelings and experiences, and teach them to inform an adult immediately who can intervene.
Work Out a Safety Plan with Your Child
Parents and educators alike can teach children about developing a safety plan which should include who they are going to inform about the bullying, how they will stay safe physically, and ways in which they can express their feelings. Safety plans should be communicated to teachers, school administrators, health nurses, co-workers and others who come in contact with your children on a daily basis. Younger children must understand which food(s) they are allergic to and the reactions they may experience. There are guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which offer practical suggestions about food allergies.
Use this conversation as another opportunity to talk with your child about when an epinephrine auto-injector and/or other antihistamines might be used. Let them know that other adults, (i.e. teachers, coaches, other relatives and babysitters) are aware of their safety plan as well.
Be Familiar with the Signs and Symptoms of Bullying
You should become acquainted with the signs and symptoms of bullying and ask your child directly if you suspect he/she has been bullied.
Some of the more common symptoms of bullying can include:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed personal belongings
- Changes in eating or sleep habits
- Not wanting to go to school
- A decline in grades
- A sudden loss in friends
- Feelings of helplessness
FARE has a helpful video on bullying. Watch it with your child and help them to understand they are not alone and that bullying is not a joke, but a very serious unacceptable behavior.