Food Allergy Bullying: Proactive Solutions!

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.

Until now…

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)
Beautiful Woman with Pencil and Folder Isolated on White.
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

Woman and young girl embracing outdoors smilingparents 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.

Group of College Girls in a 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! : )

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No Bullying: Educating Children About Food Allergies

 

This week I received an email from my son’s schoolteacher explaining a situation that happened in the lunchroom. When you have a food allergic child, that really is not what you want to hear…but in hindsight, dare I say that it was a good thing that happened?

My son and another student from a different first grade classroom have a milk allergy. As you may know from previous posts, my son is allergic to milk by ingestion and touch. Anyhow, my son and this student were eating lunch together at the peanut free table. Two students from my son’s classroom were there as well, one of which has a nut allergy and the other no allergies.

Then the horrifying happened. The non-allergic student decided to shove a cheese quesadilla in the face of the milk allergic child and tease him about his milk allergy. Then, having just watched it happen, the nut allergic child decided to do the same to my son.

My son and the other milk allergic boy asked the cafeteria monitor for help. Unbeknownst to all the boys, the cafeteria monitor has a daughter with a peanut allergy. She spoke to the boys about the serious nature regarding the incident. Later, my son’s teacher, who has a nephew with a peanut allergy, also decided to have a conversation with the group of boys as well.

The message to the nut allergic child was, “How would you feel if someone waved a peanut butter sandwich in your face?” Obviously, the boy said he wouldn’t like that.

When I spoke with my son’s teacher, we had a really good conversation about how the children don’t understand the serious nature of food allergies. I decided to donate two books to my son’s school; both are by Amy Recob, The BugaBees Friends with Food Allergies and The BugaBees Friends for All Time.

While both of these books give the basics about food allergies, on a child’s level, the books also talk about how to care for a friend who has food allergies. Wonderful read, with cute and colorful illustrations, way to go Amy!

My son’s teacher emailed me to share how things went after she read the Friends for All Time book to the class. She asked her class, “How would you feel if I had a fiery torch and placed it very close to your face?” Students grumbled, not good. I’d be scared. I wouldn’t want to get burned. She went on to explain that a person who has a food allergy feels that way when you tease with food in which they are allergic.

I couldn’t be more pleased with how my teacher and lunchroom monitor handled the situation. It was addressed swiftly, compassionately and with the focus on education. While I know it won’t be the last time that my son experiences this type of situation, my heart continues to tell me that I am on the appropriate path by addressing situations with compassion, education and an attitude of partnership. Why my friends…because it’s the kind of community I want to live in.

xo Kristin