Food Allergy Bullying: How to Spot It and Steps to Help Stop It

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Any child can be bullied, but unfortunately, food allergies can make children stand out as different, potentially causing other children to single them out and bully them. For example, maybe your child is eating a different meal than everyone else on a class trip and other children make fun of him or her for it.

Any type of bullying can be tough for you and your child, but this type of bullying also has the potential to become life-threatening if the bully exposes your child to the allergen. As a parent, it helps to be prepared with ways to spot food allergy bullying and steps you can take to help stop it.

What If Your Child Doesn’t Tell You?

Food allergy bullying is fairly prevalent. A large sample found that 32 percent of the children with food allergies who were surveyed had experienced food allergy bullying once or more, according to a 2014 study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

In the study, many of the parents knew their child was facing this type of bullying because their child told them about it. But what if your child isn’t forthcoming?

Children at any age might keep the bullying a secret, especially because bullying can come with feelings like embarrassment and shame. It helps to know how to spot bullying. Try to discover if your child is bullied by using techniques like these:

  • ·Establish a routine of talking about your days with your children. Be sure to ask open-ended questions that encourage your child to open up. Try varying questions to understand different aspects of your child’s day and life. Also, consider asking questions directly about the allergy, such as, “Do people ever tease you about your peanut allergy?” Ask follow-up questions.

  • Pay attention to your child’s behaviors, attitudes and answers. If you notice concerning changes, such as increased anxiety, try to discover the root cause of the change. Look for signs of bullying, such as reluctance to go to school, a drop in grades, injuries or damaged clothing.

  • Consider asking your child’s friends, other parents or teachers about your child. This might help if your child seems different but won’t open up.

Especially during the teen years, it’s possible that your child won’t share what  they’re going through and will instead suffer in silence. Try to:

  • Bring up the subject in case your teen is scared to start the conversation

  • Encourage your teen to talk to people they’re comfortable with

  • Consider finding a mental health professional for your teen

  • Provide a teen bullying hotline in case your teen needs someone anonymous to talk to

How to Stop Food Allergy Bullying

The before-mentioned 2014 study followed up with the same families a year later and found that parental intervention was associated with remission of the food allergy bullying. You can apply this information to your own family and see if it helps. The ways parents who participated in the study had intervened included addressing the problem with:

  • ·The school principal

  • A teacher

  • Other school personnel

  • The bully and/or the bully’s parents (this isn’t always recommended)

  • Their own children

There are other ways you can help your bullied child. Here are some suggestions:

  • Teach your child to recognize bullying and to tell a trusted adult about it.

  • Teach your child to confidently tell the bully to stop and to try other methods of handling the situation, such as using humor; encourage your child to run away or seek help if being forced to eat the food allergen.

  • Tell your child that you will help, and contact the school as the solution.

  • Educate others about food allergy bullying and solutions, and encourage key people at the school to educate on this problem.

  • Encourage your child to befriend other children who will be supportive and will band together with your child to protect against bullies.

  • Help your child manage feelings connected to the bullying.

  • ·Learn additional tips on how parents can help their children with bullying.

Of course, it’s also important that your child and people at the school know how to handle an allergic reaction in case the bullying results in exposure to the allergen.

By looking for signs of bullying, communicating with your child and knowing tactics for stopping bullying, you can help your child and other children tackle this problem.

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