I so clearly remember standing on the playground with a little boy standing a foot away from me, waving his peanut snack in front of my face. “Caitlin, look! I can kill you with this!” As a small, shy elementary school girl, I would not stand up for myself when I was bullied for my food allergies. I wish I could go back to that little girl and teach her how to stand up for herself. Unfortunately I cannot revisit that little girl, but I can share my experience and knowledge with fellow allergic children, or loved ones of children with food allergies.
The following are 5 steps to fight food allergy bullies:
- Find Resources – Whether you are a parent or a child with food allergies, it is important to understand that you are not alone. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), roughly 15 million Americans suffer with food allergies, and 1 in every 13 children are affected by food allergies in the United States (to read more statistics from FARE, click here). So no – you are not alone. Twenty years ago, when I was in elementary school, rarely any parents, teachers, or staff even knew what a food allergy was. Thankfully, I believe that our society is generally more aware of food allergies today. With more awareness today, take advantage of the resources out there. Resources can include school staff, fellow parents, allergic peers, or even online resources.
- Educate – After you have accessed any resources available to you, take the time to educate those around you that do not have an awareness or a better understanding of allergies. If you are the parent of a young child with food allergies, take the opportunity to speak with and educate the teacher. If the teacher would allow it, try to make a class visit to speak to the entire class in order to educate teachers and students. Bring props, pictures, diagrams, anything that you feel would help your child’s peers to better understand the severity of food allergies. If you are a teenager with food allergies, you can take more responsibility in educating your teacher and peers.
- Communicate – If you are a parent, make sure to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Explain that teachers and peers may not understand how serious their allergies are. Come up with possible scenarios where people may misunderstand allergies, in order to identify how your child feels or would respond in these scenarios. If you are a child, PLEASE communicate with your parents. If you feel that you are in danger, or made uncomfortable with any situations, speak to someone. I was bullied by the girl I called my “best friend” for 10 years, from elementary school to high school. I wish I had told my parents in the beginning what was going on. I cannot stress this point enough.
- Speak out – If you or your child experiences any sort of bullying, speak out. If you are a parent, try to teach your child key phrases to memorize for bullying situations. If they feel threatened, teach them to say something as simple as “No!” You can also teach them to respond by saying things like, “That is not safe for me,”, “Do not come close to me with that,”, or “Stay back!”
- Create a plan of attack – It is very helpful to have a plan of attack in place before any bullying occurs. Speaking with teachers, staff, or any parents and peers that have authority or experience with food allergies. If you are a parent, create a plan of attack for your child for any threatening situations. If a student begins to bully your child, who is the first person they need to tell? Will the teacher call you, the parent, when a situation has occurred?
Having made it from kindergarten through college (not without some bumps and bruises), I realize how important it is to have plans in place before a situation arises. I hope these 5 steps bring aid to anyone experiencing these frustrating situations. Hopefully those of you that read this are able to plan ahead and catch these issues before they arise!