According to a study by the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, 30 percent of students with food allergies have been bullied or teased about it by peers.
But parents, teachers and schools can work together to reduce the harassment. Here’s what you can do.
Ask Teachers to Talk about Food Allergies in the Classroom
In many instances, food allergy bullying stems from a lack of understanding. Young children who have never been exposed to food allergies might have trouble comprehending the dire consequences that can arise when a food allergic child is exposed to certain allergens. Teachers can help alleviate this issue by starting the school year off with a discussion about food allergies. Social worker Judy S. Freedman, author of “Easing the Teasing” suggests using books such as “Taking Food Allergies to School” by Helen Weiner as a springboard for this type of discussion.
Ask Parents to Help Spread the Word
According Christine Szychlinski, APN, CPNP, manager of the Bunning Food Allergy Program and the Food Allergy Community Education program at Children’s Memorial Hospital, “Kids with food allergies typically don’t like to explain their allergy.” As a result, Szychlinski suggests that parents of food allergic kids enlist their friends and neighbors to help spread the word by speaking with faith communities, scouting troops, the PTA and other community organizations that have direct interaction with their kids. Enlisted parents can also speak with their own children about food allergies and ways they can help their friends stay safe and comfortable.
Insist School has a 504 Plan or a Specified Allergy Action Plan
According to Kelly Rudniki, founder of “Food Allergy Mama,” a 504 plan or allergy action plan is essential to ensure school and classroom policies are enforced from the top down. To avoid pushback from parents, insensitive comments and rogue behavior, school administrators need to take a leadership position, enforcing “food” policies without exception.
Join a Support Group
Support networks such as Food Allergy Initiative, FAAN, and MOCHA provide a wealth of information and help connect parents and kids in the food allergic community. Szychlinski loves that parents can use these networks to learn best practices from their peers while kids have a chance to meet other kids who have allergies just like them. FAAN has a number of programs designed just for teens, which includes conferences, summits and a college network.