Food Allergy Bullying: How To Help Your Child Overcome Negative Behavior From Peers

Food allergies are on the rise in school buildings. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of kids with food allergies has increased nearly 50 percent since 1997.

If your child is the one out of 13 kids who suffers from food allergies, he or she may also be the victim of bullying or mean behavior regarding those allergies. And, unlike a prank that might simply be embarrassing for another child, a kid with allergies may have his or her life threatened by this bullying behavior.

Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc. (FARE) says that up to one-third of kids with food allergies report being bullied at school. More than half the time they don't tell parents or other adults about what's happening. This bullying can take several forms, all of which can be detrimental:

  • Teasing.
  • Threatening to force-feed a food to which your child is allergic.
  • Practical jokes that may include exposure to the allergen.
  • Being touched by the allergen.

Talk to your child.

It's important to open the lines of communication with your child about his or her allergy. In particular, if you see signs of your child being stressed at school - such as not wanting to go, having head- or stomach-aches, trouble with sleeping and/or becoming more withdrawn - you'll need to coax out information about what's going on.

One tactic that can help kids overcome bullying of all types is to role-play with a trusted adult. Teach your child to be confident and use humor whenever possible to diffuse a situation. When that doesn't work, encourage him or her to tell a teacher or other school official about the bullying.

Even if your child is not currently being bullied, it's a good idea to open the lines of communication about a potential problem. Decide on a safety plan in case something does happen - who your child will talk to for help.

Talk to your child's teacher.

You want to make sure that all teachers, aides and administrators at your child's school are aware of the serious nature of the allergy. If necessary, ask your doctor to write a letter that outlines the health concerns for your child and what to do if he or she is exposed at any time to an allergen.

It's also important to communicate to the teacher that this is not acceptable behavior. Sometimes teachers don't see taunting related to a food allergy as a real physical threat, and you need to make it clear what the consequences of allergen exposure can be for your child. In addition, a study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that in 21 percent of cases, a teacher was aware of or participated in the bullying incident.

Remember that you are your child's advocate and need to stand up to ensure this behavior doesn't threaten his or her physical or emotional welfare. Your allergist like one from Allergy Partners of Raleigh should be familiar with this issue and can help with suggestions or different approaches should you need to take additional steps to curtail the bullying behavior.