As if bullies need a reason to throw their weight around, kids with food allergies are more often a prime target of bully maliciousness. Research shows that 1/3 of kids with food allergies are bullied by other kids because of their allergies.
Real cases of children with food allergies having milk spit in their face from a straw or having peanut butter rubbed on their arms is a sobering wake-up call. What’s to be done in response to food bullies?
Some say you handle it the same as you do any other form of bullying:
- For the child, tell an adult immediately, keep calm and make sure the bully does not get the desired effect.
- For the parent, make sure the school is aware and that appropriate action is taken.
But for the child experiencing point blank contact with their food allergen, it can be extremely frightening and even life-threatening. Consequently, not just parents, but also school personnel must be prepared such a crisis. The bully should be separated from the food allergic child and responsible staff should review the Food Allergy Action for guidance on what to do.
What makes a bully?
All too often, children become bullies because they experience being bullied themselves – and unfortunately it often originates at home. Unless a child is taught to understand the differences among people and develop a sense of tolerance early on, they are more likely to become a bully. To a child it can be a game, but bullying is not a joke or a game. Food should not be used as a weapon against other kids who suffer from food allergies.
This excerpt from The New York Times, June 2013, offers enlightenment on the subject: “Food allergy-related bullying does not always stem from peers, but from adults, such as teachers,” said Elisabeth Stieb, a nurse at the Food Allergy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Some states have guidelines for management of food allergies in schools, and many tackle bullying specifically, with cafeteria monitors trained to “intervene quickly to help prevent trading of food or bullying activities.”
Bullying is distinct from ordinary teasing. What separates them is not only a power differential between the children, said Dr. Rashmi Shetgiri, a pediatrician and researcher at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, but that “someone is intentionally trying to harm someone else.”
Find out what you can do to help stop bullying. Visit Food Allergy Research Education and watch the compelling video called, “Food Allergy Bullying: It’s Not a Joke”, which puts food allergy bullying into perspective from the child’s point of view.