Bullying of Children with Food Allergies – How You Can Help
by Karen Stickler, PsyD, MA
If nearly 35 percent of children aged 5 and older with food allergies are bullied, how can we prepare our children and keep them safe?
Bullying is common among children with food allergies, and is associated with lower quality of life and distress in children and their parents. Bullying victims can be at increased risk for suicide. In addition, bullying of children with food allergies using food allergens can result in potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. As parents, teachers, and medical professionals, it is our obligation to help our children navigate through the joys and perils of life. Above all else, we want to keep our children safe. Bullying, therefore, should not be tolerated under any circumstances.
Together we can -and should – proactively advocate to prevent, and to swiftly deal with bullying of our children. There are ways to be proactive in dealing with bullying A few ways in which you can help include talking about bullying; describing ways in which one may be bullied; working on a safety plan with your child; and familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms of bullying.
Talking about Bullying with Your Child
What exactly is bullying? Definitions of bullying vary; one definition by StopBullying.gov, defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Long before your child may become the victim of bullying, it’s important to talk with him about it. When talking to your child, you will need to use age appropriate language to explain what bullying is.
You will also need to explain why children with food allergies may be at risk for bullying. Oftentimes, kids are bullied when they are perceived as different from their peers. Living with food allergies differentiates children from the ‘norm’ and immediately puts kids at risk for being bullied. This may or may not be true given how the community (school, religious institutions, sports, and other recreational groups) perceives food allergies and whether or not they understand the real physical reactions one can have to the allergen(s).
For children with food allergies, bullying may take on a new dimension. It has been reported that some children have been taunted by other children using allergens, such as touching the allergic child with the known allergen, contaminating their food, or throwing the allergen at them. Let your children know that these behaviors are not acceptable, and shouldn’t be tolerated. Validate their feelings and experiences, and teach them to inform an adult who can intervene.