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Food Allergy Bullying- Prevention, Detection and Reaction

What is food allergy bullying?

No child deserves to be bullied. Ever. However, you may be surprised to read this, but at the core- bullying is the same in every situation. The bully has a need to exercise power over the victim. The victim being bullied cannot easily defend themselves resulting in them feeling powerless, isolated and unsafe. There is an unequal balance of power and the bullying continues so this unfair balance of power continues.

food allergies bullying

“Studies have shown that there was no differentiation between both the food the victims were allergic to and the severity of the allergy.”

Food allergy bullying is more concerning than other forms of bullying as there are also psychological implications due to the potential life-threating nature of food allergies. Victims of food allergy bullying have more to worry about than their hurt feelings (an issue which cannot be underrated) they have responsibly of their own health and taking care of themselves medically as well as the fear of dying.

1/3 of food-allergic kids are bullied because of their allergy. With grades 6-10 it was as high as 50%”

Combating bullying

“Awareness, awareness, awareness; It all comes down to awareness.” Says Bracha ZanbarZanbar, Food Allergy Specialist.

When children don’t understand the life-threating nature and consequences of a food allergies they can get resentful or jealous due to perceived special treatment that they feel the child with food allergies is getting, or of what they feel is unfair effects on them or other classmates- (like not being allowed to have a pizza party due to a classmates dairy allergy.) This makes the chances of a child with food allergies being bullied significantly higher and while food allergy awareness has increased in the past few years, it still isn’t understood or accommodated for enough. Including allergy education as part of the school curriculum can also be an important step towards general awareness and unnecessary feelings of power imbalance on behalf of the bully.

How to spot if your child is being bullied

All parents want to do is protect their children. Unfortunately, as our children grow older we slowly reason just how little control we can have over the things that happen around and to our child. Parents of children with food allergies already have their protective nature in overdrive.

When it comes to bullying the most important step is to open communication about the situation between the child and the parent with research showing that when parents were aware of their child being bullied they coped better and suffered less.

Look to notice if your child displays any of these symptoms:

  • Appear sad, upset, withdrawn, or anxious
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Reluctance to go to school
  • Change in eating habits
  • Lunchbox coming back from school full
  • Dramatic changes in behaviour

Dr Linda Herbert, a psychologist at Children’s National Health System in D.C says that parents should open the lines of communication before any signs of trouble are shown. Ask your child open-ended questions about their day in school, their experiences and feelings. Instead of asking, “Did you have a good day in school?” ask “How was your day in school?” If they answer ‘good’- ask a follow-up question of, “why- what happened to you today to make it a good day?” This way it would be easier to see the warning signs and notice a change in your child’s behaviour.

What can a parent do after being made aware of the situation?

Professionals make several suggestions to parents after they have been notified when bullying is taking place.

  1. Record all the details of every bullying incident. Keep calm and ask the basics; when did it happen, where did it happen and what happened.
  2. If a child is being physically threatened with a food they are allergic to- due to the danger of the situation, they should be taught to first make sure they are safe(run away) and then get help (tell an adult immediately)
  3. Show your child that from now on you will take care of the situation- that you will do whatever you can to make sure they are safe.
  4. Validate your child’s emotions – reassure them that the bullying is not their fault and make it clear that it’s normal to feel sad, scared or angry when someone is threatening you.
  5. Role-play with your child featuring scenarios of bullying to aid them with the tools to better handle another potential situation of bullying, utilising a professional if necessary.
  6. Encourage your child to spend time with friends and classmates who make them feel safe and comfortable.
  7. Organised a Doctor to talk about food allergies at the school or church. A Doctor is someone who displays authority and who children are more likely to respect and believe.
  8. And finally- contact the school and form a partnership to combat this issue together. In the event of a serious situation- request a meeting immediately- otherwise have a sit-down with the relevant parties it the school system, such as the teacher and principal and relay the details of the various bullying incidents, bringing alone all the evidence you have. Ask for their bullying policy and what steps they plan on taking. Schools usually take reports of bullying seriously and have a strict policy in place already.

Scott Sicherer of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says, “From day one tell your child- you’re not about the foods you can’t eat. Tell your child there are many children who can’t eat certain foods for a whole host of reasons, like diabetics, children with celiac disease or vegetarians-so having a specialised diet doesn’t define you. Remind your child about their strengths and explore them with your child so they can feel better about themselves. If your child grows up normalising their situation- then other children should follow in their lead- allowing their food allergies to be just a part of their lives, not a defining element. There is no reason your child should ever feel isolated or different from others- and with a bit of creativeness, this is not only possible but easily achievable.



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