Now that school is back in full swing, you can be sure the food allergy bullies are, too. Among the 5.9 million kids with food allergies, 40% of them have suffered a life-threatening reaction. About one-third of these children have experienced being bullied at school.
If you are a parent of a child with food allergies, you’re faced with a major responsibility to guide and teach your child how to deal with bullies and the anxiety they create. Because kids with food allergies are perceived as ‘different’, they are a perfect target for bullies. It’s important that your child not feel singled out as though they don’t belong. A lot of this depends on your community and the school. How do they perceive and respond to the needs of children with food allergies? And, most importantly, do they understand that allergic reactions to foods can be life-threatening?
Among children, bullying is more than just teasing. The imbalance of power among children can be surprisingly harmful and potentially life-threatening. Although most bullying reported by children occurs at school, it also happens at other places children gather, such as playgrounds, school buses, at home, at a friend’s home, restaurants, camp, and on the Internet.
When parents are aware of their child being bullied, it improves the child’s quality of life, providing the support and guidance children need. That translates into doing better work in school as well as learning important people skills early on.
Whether or not you suspect your child is being bullied, engage in daily conversations about school and social activities. This helps your child to feel trust and open up about any bullying that might be occurring. It gets you, the parent, involved. Ask your child open-ended questions that require an answer that can lead to more open discussion, such as:
- Who did you play with at recess or PE?
- Who did you sit with during lunch?
- How was your bus ride to/from school?
Parents are advised to also be aware that food allergy bullying is not restricted to elementary age children. In fact, bullying is shown to increase risky behavior among children with food allergies. A study of food allergic youth ages 13 to 21 found that
- 39 percent do not carry their epinephrine auto-injector.
- 54 percent had purposely ingested potentially unsafe foods.
- 42 percent were willing to ingest foods that “may contain” an allergen.
- 68 percent think educating friends would make living with food allergy easier.
When you begin at an early age teaching your child to understand the facts and dangers of food allergies, they have a better chance of dealing with the challenges of bullying, as well as self-management. Trusting their own judgment builds the child’s confidence and stability for the long term.