I felt helpless when my food allergic son or one of his classmates was on the receiving end of food allergy teasing/bullying. We’ve had nine incidents at my son’s school within a 15-week period. Sometimes I’ve just felt like I was laying in wait for the next episode, doesn’t feel very proactive. In addition, this topic is getting much coverage, as recently seen on CNN, in Time as well as Care2; however, while these articles are informative, they offer little in the way of solutions.
I can’t just sit by and be a victim, and I certainly don’t want that for my son either. I started to think about proactive behaviors that can assist you with your school, help to reduce the incidents and provide practical steps for your little guy or gal when it does happen.
Here are my Top 8 suggestions for food allergy bullying:
One – Make Bullying Part of Your 504 or Individual Healthcare Plan (IHP)
In partnership with your school; determine how bullying and teasing incidents will be handled. Find out your district or school’s bullying policy. While it may be tempting to make it about food allergies, I encourage you to concentrate on the fact that this is a behavior and discipline issue. Don’t have this factored into your 504 or IHP? Remember that you can call a meeting at any time to review.
Explain that you want to be notified of any food allergy teasing/bullying. Find out the process:
– How will the behavior be addressed?
– Will each incident be documented?
– Will the teaser/bully’s parents be contacted?
– How will multiple offenses be handled?
– How will the school communicate a school zero tolerance policy
for this type of behavior?
Two – When a Bullying or Teasing Incident Occurs
Get all the details from your child and the school and encourage the agreed upon protocol in your 504 or IHP be followed. Also, be open and flexible to new suggestions that weren’t outlined previously. Sometimes the best solutions come out of thin air.
Once the issue is resolved, speak with your child about how tomorrow is a new day; the slate is wiped clean, for both the bully and your child. Our kiddos are still learning how to interact and forgive one another. Forgiveness as well as not holding a grudge, are a part of life’s learning process, having a clear understanding of this will help set your child up for lifelong success.
Three – Provide Food Allergy Presentations to Your Child’s Classroom
Many have found that giving food allergy presentations to classmates was useful in cultivating incredibly supportive peers. You can give the presentation yourself, or hire a consultant like me if you are not comfortable. The Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota has written lesson plans, children’s books and plastic food for parents to check out/borrow. Items to consider in your talk would be to:
– Read an age appropriate story about your child’s allergies, i.e., milk, eggs, tree nuts, etc.
– Show the group a toy ambulance, explaining at their level how a student could get sick
– Show auto-injectors and explain they are not to be played with etc.
– Do an interactive activity with plastic food (the activity can change according to grade)
Four – Talk to Your Child Daily
I know, that sounds fundamental or you might even say to me, der-duh! ; ) However, many
parents tend to be at either end of the spectrum, they either ask too often and nervously — which can create anxiety for both the parent and the child or they don’t ask at all. I make it a part of our daily school download. Everyday I pick up my son from school we talk about his day. He brings to the table the regulars, i.e., what he learned, who had their card changed for the day, what they did in the special subject assigned to that day, i.e., art, computer, gym, library etc. and then we always talk about lunch and recess. I also make sure to ask the question, “Did anyone bother you today?” AND “Did you bother anyone today?” I like to strike a balance.
Five – Stay Connected to Your Child’s Teacher
I know, another no brainer, but I truly mean forge a relationship with your child’s teacher. Not only speak about your child’s social and academics with his/her teacher, but also actually get to know your child’s teacher. Since he/she is on the frontline, that relationship is invaluable and an awesome asset for both parties, besides, who doesn’t need a new acquaintance or friend?
Six – Get to Know Your Child’s Classmates & Classmate’s Parents
Attend open houses, volunteer in the classroom and at school-wide activities, field trips and participate in Mom coffees, etc. Knowing the cast of characters and them knowing you will create connections, so if something happens, you can work through the situation(s) collaboratively. I know this can be difficult if you work outside the home, or still have a little one at home like I do, but do your very best as it will only be of benefit to you and your child.
Seven – Teach Your Child How to Be a Good Friend
Our kiddos learn everything from us; therefore, set an example and foster positive relationships. Friendship is about learning how to speak respectfully and be considerate with one another (even in a disagreement or confrontation), how to share stories, be funny, apologize and accept apologies, ask for help or favors and be a good winner and a good loser. We teach our kiddos how to be people that others want to be around; so set clear rules with clear consequences. Don’t forget positive reinforcement for good behavior, sometimes I think this works better than anything else. Lastly, it’s a parent’s responsibility to acknowledge that we teach our children our bias and prejudices; it is our job to set our children up for success by rooting acceptance and tolerance of and for others.
Eight – Encourage Your Child to Have Many Friends
When dealing with food allergies, having a strong circle of friends that care and rally around you with support is essential. I consistently share with my son what it means to be a good friend. I encourage him to have many acquaintances and friends — the more people who know him, the more people will like him and understand his food allergies are only a small part of him, not the entire package. By being involved with many, it also creates more food allergy awareness; so get your cruise director hat on and orchestrate some play dates, get signed up for clubs, organizations, teams, etc. that provide the opportunity to make friends and expand you and your child’s social circle.
Friendship & Community
Always remember that friendship is best extended in sincerity, not under duress. Take the necessary steps to genuinely get to know others and they will most likely do the same. While this may be difficult if you’re a person that likes to keep to yourself, know that developing these skills will also teach your child how to be more extroverted as well. If your child prefers to hang with one or two close friends, respect that, while lovingly encouraging social situations that stretch yet support their comfort, all while boosting confidence.
Lastly, a strong collaboration with child, school, friends and their parents will always keep you striving for the type of compassionate community you want to live in! : )