This week, The New York Times reported that children with food allergies are victims of bullying. The story cited a survey published in the journal Pediatrics that found about one third of children surveyed reported being bullied for their food allergies.
Children’s National Health System’s Director of the Food Allergy Program Hemant P. Sharma, MD, said they are trying to tackle the issue head-on.
“We are taking a very unique approach by having a psychologist in our Food Allergy Program,” said Dr. Sharma.
The Food Allergy Program has hired Linda Herbert, PhD, to help children with allergies who have developed anxiety or depression because of their food allergy and she will be researching ways to continue helping these children.
“Anytime a child can be singled out, maybe a different sex, social class, ethnicity, or in this case a food allergy, they could be subject to bullying in school,” said Herbert. “We want to provide outpatient therapy to these children, provide them with group therapy, and teach them how to stay safe and minimize bullying.”
Dr. Sharma said it’s important for children with food allergies to not be afraid that they will be teased or bullied if they tell others about their allergy. He said kids need to be able to tell others what their allergy is and what needs to happen if they have an allergic reaction.
The New York Times article described children being taunted by classmates chanting, “You can’t eat this,” and in one extreme case, a child smeared peanut butter on the face of a kid who was allergic to peanuts.
“In the most extreme cases, if a child is touched by an allergen, he will have a skin reaction in that area. But if the allergen is ingested, the child could have as severe a reaction as anaphylaxis,” Dr. Sharma said.
Herbert offered some advice to parents on signs that your child is being bullied and what to do if you suspect bullying going on at school.
Signs of bullying:
- Child acts differently than she normally would act
- Child is not excited to go to school or delays going to school
- Child is not interested in recess, hanging out with a certain group of friends, or doing anything she used to consider fun
- Child cries easily or complains of frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Child comes home dirty or with ripped clothes
- Child shows other signs of depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem
If you notice these differences in your child, there are a few things you can do to help:
- Be open with your child
- Ask how your child’s day is going and make sure to ask open-ended questions to get the best response
- Talk to another adult
- Get your child’s teacher involved, find out the bullying policy at your child’s school
- Encourage outside interactions
- Help your child sign up for activities outside of school to promote positive social interactions and self-esteem
Has your child been bullied? How did you help your child?