Guest Post by Kristen Chandler
Bullying alone is a major problem among children these days. More and more teen and child suicides are occurring as a result of bullying. And now, many kids are being bullied because of their already life-threatening food allergies, with the allergy itself most times used against them.
My son is allergic to eggs, milk and beef. We also recently discovered possible gluten sensitivity or intolerance. He has other allergies as well, but those are the foods he can’t eat. He was pretty much born with food allergies. I say this because although he was not diagnosed until he was almost 2, he showed symptoms—including eczema and asthma—as early as 3 months old. He is now 10 years old. He outgrew his peanut and shellfish allergies before the age of 3 (which is weird because those are the two that people typically don’t outgrow) but hasn’t outgrown the others yet.
Until this year, we hadn’t been affected by food allergy bullying for the most part. There were a couple of instances last year where a child would try to make him trade food with him at lunch in order to remain his friend. As soon as I was made aware of this, I alerted the teacher and she put a stop to it.
Although he is now in fourth grade, parents still bring cupcakes or other special treats to school for their children’s birthdays. This still hasn’t presented many problems, because we have a wonderful teacher who lets me know as soon as she knows that a parent will be sending something, and I send him one of his special allergy-free cupcakes that I usually keep on hand (they freeze well, by the way).
A couple of months ago, his teacher texted me one morning and told me that a parent would be bringing cupcakes that afternoon for a snack. I made sure my son had one of his cupcakes at school before snack time. Well, I picked him up that afternoon. He got in the car, and then proceeded to start eating his cupcake.
“Please don’t eat that in my car, sweetie, you’ll get crumbs everywhere,” I told him. One of the downsides of these allergy free cupcakes is that they’re sometimes crumbly due to the fact they don’t contain egg.
“I can’t help it. I’m hungry and I really want to eat it because I didn’t get to eat it at snack time,” he replied.
“Why didn’t you get to eat it at snack time? Were you in trouble for something and had to stay in for snack?” I asked.
“I was just too busy,” he mumbled.
But judging by the look on his face and the fact that he LOVES his cupcakes, I sensed there was more to the story than what he was telling me.
“What really happened? You love your cupcakes. Why didn’t you eat it?” I asked him.
“I didn’t want someone to make fun of me.”
And there it was. The truth. My heart broke for my child in that moment. No one ever wants their kid to be picked on, but when they’re picked on because of an illness they have and can’t help having, it hurts even more. Especially when you weren’t able to do anything about it. As parents, we tend to try to be fixers. I know I do. If something happens to our children, we want to fix it and make it better. But I couldn’t fix his food allergies, and that day I couldn’t make him not be embarrassed or feel ashamed because he was different.
“Why would someone pick on you? Did someone say something? Has someone said something before?” At this point, I was in full mama bear mode and I was livid.
He then told me the full story. One child told him that “he didn’t HAVE to bring his own cupcake every time someone brought cupcakes” and another child said his cupcake was gross because it was so crumbly. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to someone who doesn’t have food allergies, but my child’s spirit was broken. This is something that is just for him, something safe for him to eat so he can be as much like everyone else as possible, and someone has made fun of it. His “safe” food no longer feels safe, because it is now a target for him to be picked on.
Just to clarify, these children aren’t ignorant. We live in a small town and most of these kids have been in the same class since kindergarten, some even since preschool. They are well aware that my son has food allergies, and he’s been bringing his own cupcakes, and any food for that matter, since kindergarten. They were just being mean.
I know a lot of schools and classrooms are taking the “no outside food” approach, where you can’t have any food brought in from outside the classroom, in order to protect those with food allergies. Our school doesn’t have that policy. However, since my son’s allergies are anaphylactic, I could go to the school board, backed with a note from his allergist of course, and request that they do. However, for the past four years, I have simply worked with his teachers and managed to provide him with safe food whenever they have parties or someone brings cupcakes for a birthday. That way, he’s not isolated because he can’t eat the food, and the other children still get to enjoy treats. Everyone wins.
So I did what most parents would do these days. I ranted about it on Facebook, I kept my post tame for the most part. I didn’t single anyone out, although I knew who the kids were, since my son told me. I didn’t accuse the teachers or any other staff because I honestly didn’t hold them at fault. I honestly believe that if my son’s teacher had been close by, she would have handled the situation. The main purpose behind my Facebook rant was to educate people who don’t deal with food allergies on a regular basis.
Food allergies are an illness. For some, a life threatening one. They are almost considered a disability. So, would you make fun of and pick on a disabled child? Most people would answer no, but there are a handful of people out there who actually would. And, seriously, who does that?? And WHY would you do that?
After my rant, I spoke to my son’s teacher personally. She wasn’t close by, because the kids sit in the hallway for snack. But she got names from me and assured me the situation would be dealt with, and it was.
Since then, we haven’t had any more problems. And hopefully we won’t have any more, but you never know.
If you are reading this and you are a parent of a child who DOES NOT have food allergies, please take a moment to educate your child on the severity of food allergies.
If you are the parent of a food allergy kid and you’ve dealt with a similar situation, please leave us a comment, or drop us an email if you’d like to write a guest post just like Kristen.