The incidences of food allergies in children are on the rise. And with it comes an increase in bullying. Bullies have always targeted those that seem different: the kid that is a head taller than everyone else, the overweight child, or the one with thick glasses and shy nature. All bullying is serious and harmful, but when it involves taunting a child with a food that can kill him, the stakes become much higher.
Food Allergy Bullying is Real
If you are the parent of a child with a food allergy, especially one that is life threatening, it may be difficult for you to imagine that another kid could be so cruel as to put the allergen in the path of your child. According to a recent report, up to one-third of children with food allergies experience bullying because of the allergy. Parents were only aware of the bullying in half of the instances.
Allergist working with children and their parents are hearing anecdotal evidence of food allergy bullying. From spitting milk in the face of a child with a dairy allergy to smearing peanut butter on a kid with a peanut allergy to less severe cases, bullying with food is happening everywhere. Sometimes the bullying is restricted to scary threats, and sometimes it happens as terrifying incidents that lead to anaphylaxis and emergency room visits.
Because more children are suffering from these food allergies, schools have become aware of the dangers and risks and have taken precautions to keep kids safe. Many have banned certain foods, like peanuts, when a child in the school has a life-threatening allergy. What can they do to stop bullying, though? Bullying is a problem for many children, but with food allergies, the issue becomes all that much more serious.
Those advocating for people with food allergies believe that awareness and education are the keys to making schools and other environments safer. It may be that some kids who bully just don’t realize how severe allergies can be. They may not know that simple contact with one peanut could cause their classmate to die. It can be hard to imagine for a child that has no experience with food allergies. While providing school environments that are free of peanuts or soy or dairy is helpful, there needs to be education along with the changes so that all kids understand what food allergies are and what the results of exposure can be.
Keep Your Child Safe
If you have a child with a severe food allergy, don’t rely on the school and her teachers to keep her completely safe. They may be doing their best, but they cannot control everything that happens. Teach your child to report to adults and to you when she experiences bullying of any kind.
Speak with your child’s doctor and allergist about the potential for food allergy bullying and what to do. If your child can benefit from an EpiPen, talk about having one on hand at school; it will make her feel safer. Also teach her to be aware of her food, to be vigilant about what she eats and about not leaving her food unattended in the cafeteria.
Connect with other families that have children with allergies. Together you can come up with solutions or start awareness campaigns. At the very least you will show your child that she is not the only one with an allergy and that she is not alone in her experiences.