Let’s Talk About Food Allergy Bullying

Bullying is a big topic in schools and the media alike. In my own little corner of the world, I know my daughter and I have to review and sign her elementary school’s anti-bullying policies and safeguards document every fall, as do all of the other kids and parents. Taking a few minutes to read over this document, discuss what bullying is and how it impacts people, remind kids of the consequences, and talk about constructive ways to help prevent bullying and support other kids is definitely worthwhile in my book. This last time, it actually led to a really interesting conversation with my 9-year-old 4th grader about how she perceives other kids, what she does in social settings when she feels bullied or sees that type of behavior.

The thing is, bullying isn’t only about social behavior and feelings, which are in and of themselves very serious issues. Bullying can be also physically dangerous, and this is highly apparent and concerning when kids have food allergies. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc.), approximately, “…a third of kids with food allergies report that they have been bullied specifically because of their allergies.” Even worse, sometimes that bullying includes use of the food allergens themselves. FARE’s “It’s Not A Joke,” campaign features two stories from young men who, as kids, were threatened with allergen exposure as a form of bullying.

Kids typically don’t like to stand out for things they cannot control, and being “different” in any way is often a great challenge for kids. Thankfully, there are some things parents, teachers, and school personnel can do to help safeguard kids with food allergies from allergy-motivated bullying.

  1. pal-posterFARE.jpgTalk about it. If your child has food allergies, you may need to have a 504 Plan in place with the school, and you’ll definitely want to work with them to develop an allergy action plan. This is something the nurse and every teacher who works with your child should have a copy of. If you’ve never done this before, check out some of the resources over on FARE’s website, and call your school nurse. S/he has likely seen this all before and will tend to be a great point of contact for developing pro-active plans at school.
  2. Advocate and Educate. Encourage your child’s school to host anti-bullying assemblies that specifically discuss food allergies. If they don’t have any such programming in place, share some of FARE’s school presentations with them such as the Be A Pal program. Here at LH, we’re especially fond of Kyle Dine, an allergy awareness performer whose in-school and video presentations help educate elementary-age kids in a fun, positive manner. See if you can spot the puppet wearing a Lauren’s Hope medical ID bracelet. Kyle always has one on too!
  3. Empower your kid. Yes, empowered kids may still get bullied. Doing karate or taking archery isn’t going to prevent bullying. But when kids feel good about themselves, especially through achievement, and build confidence in their abilities, they feel better able to handle all sorts of situations. And that is always a good thing. Confident kids may be more likely to report bullying as well, which is the only way for adults to step in and put a stop to bullying they may not see first-hand.
  4. Color Changing Mood Bead Medical ID BraceletStay protected. Always ensure that your child carries his or her epinephrine or other emergency medications or that the classroom teacher has them. This is especially important in the lunchroom and on the playground where cross-contamination of surfaces and accidental exposure are more likely and where bullying is more common. If your child is not old enough to carry his or her own rescue medications, the adults responsible for the lunchroom and playground should have them on hand. It’s always a good rule of thumb to remember that in an emergency, you want everyone running toward your child to provide assistance, not toward, then away (to find meds), then back. The extra 2-3 minutes it might take to retrieve rescue meds left in a classroom or with the nurse can make all the difference in a real emergency.
  5. Provide choices. Kids generally want to fit in. Wearing a medical ID bracelet or necklace is essential for kids with food allergies, but it’s also one more way kids might feel “different.” And this feeling is one reason kids might be non-compliant about wearing medical IDs, which might make them feel like they stand out less but actually puts them at real risk in an emergency. Fortunately, here at LH, we have consistently found that parents who let their children choose their own medical IDs do two things: 1. They choose something that is completely different than what the parent expected, and 2. They actually wear their medical ID jewelry.

Bullying is wrong, and it’s never the victim’s fault. It’s imperative that we continue to talk about bullying, and food allergy bullying in particular, so we can help prevent bullying and, when it does happen, help kids feel confident enough to speak up and get help.

Have you found some creative solutions to help reduce or eliminate food allergy bullying? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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