Talk to your child. If you have a child with a food allergy, you should start a conversation in a non-threatening way, says Scott Sicherer of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York.
* Ask: “Has anyone ever made you feel bad about your food allergy, or bothered or teased you about it?”
If your child responds yes, Sicherer recommends explaining to the child that adults will get involved to help. He suggests that parents discuss this with the school administration. The school can institute its anti-bullying procedures, ideally including education about the seriousness of food allergies.
* Ask open-ended questions. Inquire “about how the school day has gone, because that can just open up enough information to indicate if there are concerns”, said Linda Herbert of Children’s National Health System. Ask: How was lunch today? Who was at your table? What kinds of activities did you do? By just getting a conversation going, you might learn that your child sat by herself at lunch.
* Buddy up, and don’t engage a bully. Children should learn skills appropriate for dealing with any kind of bullying, Herbert said. “You don’t engage with a bully; you have a buddy, and you walk away. You find out what the administration policy is on bullying.”
* Reassure the bullied. Sicherer: “You are not about the foods you can’t eat. So having a diet doesn’t define you.” He recommends that parents remind children of their strengths in school and activities to make them feel better about themselves.
* Educate the community. Herbert says schools need to educate all pupils about food allergies and the need to keep young people safe. “Schools and teachers can provide an atmosphere where everybody is aware of food allergies and all other chronic illnesses,” she said.
* Consider where your child eats. If parents and children feel comfortable with the option, food-allergic children may feel less isolated if they don’t eat at an “allergy only” table, which many schools offer as an option.
* Encourage non-food activities. Bullying over food allergies might diminish if there were fewer situations in which food-allergic pupils were perceived as different.“Schools can be really proactive. It’s perfectly possible to have activities that don’t revolve around cake: maybe you have balloons and we play outside and there’s extra recess time,” Herbert said.