In the recent CNN article, Food allergies make kids a target of bullies, statistics were given that about 35% of children over the age of 5 with food allergies have been bullied, teased or harassed. There has been a lot of press on bullying recently, and this particular research published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology brought it closer to home for us.
Our school district defines Bullying in their Policy as follows: Bullying is defined as any written or verbal expression, physical act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to cause distress upon one or more persons in the school environment. Direct bullying can be physical in nature, such as hitting, kicking, pushing, or choking. Or, it can be verbal, such as name-calling, threatening, teasing, etc. Indirect bullying is subtle and may be difficult to detect, such as social isolation, intentional exclusion, making faces, staring, obscene gestures, manipulating friendships, etc. Bullying may include an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
Our son was thankfully bullied only a few times in elementary school, and not at all in middle school or high school. I’m sure it has helped that we’ve lived in the same community for 17 years, so Morgan has gone to school with the same children since kindergarten. These kids have been aware of his food allergies for years, and most have been very caring and compassionate about bringing in safe foods.
I feel it’s important to share the specifics of the bullying instances to help other parents be aware what our school district felt was inappropriate behavior that needed to be immediately stopped. The first instance occurred in 1st grade when a little boy chased Morgan around the playground after lunch saying he had a peanut butter cracker and “I’m going to kill you.” Morgan didn’t even take the child seriously because he knew the boy was emotionally immature, and he wasn’t sure the boy even had any food in his hand. A friend took Morgan to the playground monitor to report the other child’s behavior! The playground monitor immediately sent the bullying boy to the office whereupon the Principal called the parents and the child was suspended for the rest of the school day. This impressed upon everyone the seriousness of food allergies and that food should never be used as a weapon. Since Morgan was the first child in the school to have such severe and multiple food allergies, this set the tone for the rest of the families. The good news is that this little boy (who’s now a big boy!) is now very good friends with Morgan. They put this issue aside, and our families have moved on to become good friends too. They are now some of the biggest advocates for keeping Morgan safe in their home!
The second instance of bullying occurred when a child tried the same behavior on the playground, however because of a language barrier his parents didn’t understand the implications. He wasn’t suspended as far as I know. He too had some emotional issues. Later in the school year, his parents brought in sesame snacks to celebrate the Chinese New Year and had to once again be reminded that this was a severe allergy of Morgan’s and the snacks had to be sent home. This boy ended up in my husband’s Cub Scout Den, so the family got a close up lesson about food allergies. We all ended up being friends in the end!
The last instance occurred in 4th grade when a boy sat at the Peanut-Free lunch table at school with a Butterfinger candy bar and wouldn’t move. Morgan tried to get the boy to move to no avail. He then enlisted the Principal to assist him, because she happened to be in the cafeteria at the time. The Principal took the boy to the office and contacted his father. Morgan came home to tell my husband and me about the story, and my husband called the boy’s father to discuss it since the child was in his Cub Scout Den also! The father was furious that his child was being singled out for this behavior and thought that nothing inappropriate had been done! Thankfully, the school had already warned the child that sitting at the Peanut-Free Zone table with non-safe foods wouldn’t be tolerated in the future and it never occurred again.
Since these instances, Morgan has never been bullied again. Morgan is forthright about his allergies when the information would be helpful for others to know. It helps too that he’s very tall and towers over most of his classmates and older students! Regardless, the Principal in each of the situations acted swiftly and decisively which set the tone that bullying behavior with food would never be tolerated.
I believe that most school districts have a bullying policy in place. Read through your school district’s policy! It helps to see what they determine to be inappropriate behavior.
If inappropriate teasing, harassment or bullying does occur, encourage your child to talk with an adult immediately. We’ve continued to have conversations with Morgan about the potential for nasty comments from his classmates, just to keep us in the loop about any issues. He’s been very willing to share with others about his food allergies – not to be called ‘Allergy Boy’ but rather to be a self-advocate to ensure his safety. There’s a fine line between sharing the appropriate information and setting oneself up for teasing. A good school policy helps to support this balance.