Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study on the prevalence of bullying towards children with food allergies. I'm sure most of us would agree, it's not hard to see how they are easy targets. Parents of food allergy kids are all too well aware of the stigma, and I'm sad to say until recently, I was one of those parents who didn't realize that my child was a direct victim among so many others. This study reveals that more than 50% of parents are in the dark about this type of bullying as well – a deeply concerning statistic that desperately needs to change.
The Boston Globe and CNN report bullying incidents where food allergic students have had harmful foods thrown at them and/or have been verbally ostracized for trying to eat safely. In my personal situation, the latter has been the case in my daughter's 4th grade class.... all year long apparently. It wasn't until over winter break she decided to share this with me.
I was heartbroken to hear that her classmates regularly express their disappointment in not being able to bring their favorite snacks or homemade birthday treats into the classroom. (All other classes allow it, as none of them are required to be allergy-free.) From eye rolls and whispers behind her back, to more direct accusations (and even an argument between a parent and teacher in front of the entire class about a cake that was not approved), my daughter has shouldered the blame and guilt about this for months.
So what’s a parent to do (aside from feeling devastated)? For me, I quickly realized how important it is to ask direct questions of your children. My daughter and I talk often about issues related to her food allergies, but never once have I asked her if she felt as though she was being bullied. If I had done so, I have to believe she wouldn’t have suffered in silence about it for so long.
We all know how important it is to talk to our kids. And even more so, how important it is to get them talking to us. The silver lining to this story is now that we know the situation, we can deal with it head on. We've engaged my daughter's teacher and school guidance counselor, and I'm happy to report they have been a huge help in making her feel like she doesn't have to manage this alone.
If you're a parent to a food allergic child, I hope you will join me in changing these statistics for the better. Until we can eliminate bullying, I know we have the power to minimize the impact it has on our kids. For more related info on how you can help empower your children, be sure to check out this free webinar sponsored by KFA. On Tuesday, January 15, Linda Coss will be talking about "Raising a Child Who Takes Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Stride". Archived presentations will be available for those can't make the live discussion, so please, don't miss out!