Our son, Connor, is having a tough time at school this year. Recently diagnosed with a peanut allergy, he now has to carry an Epipen with him at all times. The other 7th graders in his class taunt him, saying he has a “disease” and that it’s contagious. On top of that, he’s getting harassed by students who smear peanut butter on his desk and one child shoved a peanut butter sandwich in his face. My heart is breaking as his mom, but Connor is at that age where he wants to try to handle these situations on his own, without help from Mom and Dad. However, we’re both worried about his health, both physically and psychologically. His grades have begun to suffer, and he’s been finding any excuse he can to stay home from school. How can we help without making things worse for Connor?
Doug and Susan J.
Baton Rouge, LA
Hi, Doug and Susan.
I am so sorry to read that Connor is experiencing bullying and harassment at school. Parents of kids with food allergies have it hard enough worrying about what they’re are eating at all times, and adding bullying into the mix can push everyone to their breaking points. Unfortunately, Connor is not alone in his experience. Nearly one third of all kids with allergies report being bullied because of their health condition. Your first step should be to alert Connor’s teachers and principal to the bullying and harassment if you haven’t already. Although you risk Connor feeling like you’re trying to fix things for him, it’s more important that his safety is put first in this instance. It’s important that they are aware of what’s going on so they can address it when they suspect the bullying might be occurring, and so they can work to prevent future harassment.
Meet with Connor’s teachers and see if they would be open to hosting a food allergy awareness session with his class, and possibly the entire school. The Food Allergy Research and Education website has great resources for raising awareness of food allergies. Look into the be a PAL (Protect A Life) and their It’s Not A Joke campaigns. Involve Connor in the planning process so he still feels in control of the situation.
One last suggestion would be to bring Connor to meet with a counselor, whether that’s school-based or private practice in your community. As you brainstorm with Connor and his teachers to address his classmates’ behaviors, you should also be working to repair Connor’s psychological health. Bullying can take a toll on anyone, and providing Connor with a safe outlet to process through his experiences will go a long way for him.