Saturday, May 18, 2013

Food Allergy Bullying: It's not a Joke!

"1 in 3 children with food allergies reports being bullied because of their food allergies."  I posted this on my Facebook page one morning, then that evening Bubs told me he had been bullied that day at school because of his allergies. 
Bubs doing what he loves most.  Soccer!

There are many forms of bullying, from harsh words or laughing at to physical violence.  During this specific event, Bubs was being made fun of and laughed at during lunch at school by two boys at his table because he has food allergies.  The boy who instigated this has known Bubs since they before they were two years old as they attended the same daycare.  As long as they have known each other, Bubs has had food allergies and brought his own food from home.  I'm not sure what made him decide to tease on this particular day. 

I asked Bubs what he did when they made fun of him, and he said he asked them to stop.  But they didn't.  I told him that teasing over something like food allergies is just plain silly.  It would be like teasing this boy for having red hair.  It's just how we are born!

I've heard of more severe food allergy bullying that involves taunting a child with the food they are allergic to.  Or throwing peanuts at a peanut-allergic child.  Or even worse, contaminating the child's food with an allergen. This scares me to pieces!

I've thought a lot about what makes one person tease or bully another person.  What is comes down to is lack of knowledge.  I work with people every day who have physical disabilities (something that is often made fun of), and knowing the person and the reason behind the disability gives me insight.  I can put myself in their shoes, which gives me empathy.  I know the families and see the lengths they go to for their loved ones.  The concept of empathy is difficult for children, but we can certainly teach them (and adults too) about food allergies.  Education is key!

Here are some tips on bullying from the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) website (www.foodallergy.org)

As a parent, teacher, friend, or neighbor, you can help prevent and address food allergy bullying. Here’s how:
  • Encourage open communication. Be sure kids understand what bullying is and what to do if they – or a friend or classmate – are bullied. Emphasize the importance of reporting bullying to a trusted adult
  • Teach kids the skills they need to stand up to bullies, including saying "stop" or "leave me alone" with confidence, using humor, and walking away. 
  • Recognize the signs of bullying. These can include torn clothing or damaged books; unexplained reactions or injuries; avoiding school; physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches; consistent nightmares; lower grades and loss of interest in school; social isolation; and behavior changes, such as sadness or outbursts.
  • If your child is being bullied, be calm and assure him or her that you’re going to help. Don’t encourage retaliation or confront the bully yourself. This can make the problem worse. Instead, talk to the appropriate personnel at your child’s school or camp.
  • Encourage teachers, administrators, the school nurse, or counselors to offer educational programs about food allergies and bullying.
  • Talk to school or camp administrators about establishing policies and plans that protect children with food allergies and protect all children against bullying. 
  • Set up a buddy system. Encourage kids who are bullied to stay with a group of trusted friends in high-risk situations, such as at the lunchroom or while walking home from school.
Please, please, PLEASE educate your children about food allergies. You wouldn't want someone to tease you or taunt you because of something your were born with and had no control over, would you?  Please teach your child to be respectful, helpful, and kind.

A small disclaimer:  I realize that kids will be kids and growing a thick skin is part of growing up.  I would just prefer that this so called thick skin be gained by something other than that which affects my child's ability to breathe!  That is all.
 

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