FeaturesDec/Jan 2013 Issue

Food-Allergy Bullying

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It’s important for adults to be responsive to a child who reports bullying and to reassure them that you will get them help, Cash says. Find out the school’s bullying prevention policy and how it’s being implemented. But parents should not confront the bully, tell the child to confront the bully or encourage retaliation, because it can make matters worse.

“The parents should say to their child, ‘I’m glad you told me. You did the right thing. Now let’s talk about what’s the right thing to do together. Let’s formulate a plan together so we can deal with this.’ And by doing so, you teach your child problem-solving skills,” Cash says.

“Some of the strategies that one might think would work— like, tell your teacher—might not be effective, particularly if the teacher is the one who’s doing or supporting the bullying. So the child and the parent need to talk about what’s likely to be successful. Can we go to the school principal? Can we go to the school guidance counselor? Can we go to the school psychologist? If that isn’t likely to work, can we involve our allergist in going to the school or at least communicating with the school in some way?”

If the situation worsens, Cash says, parents can ask the child’s allergist to write a letter to the school saying the child’s health is in jeopardy and asking for the child to be transferred to another school. Or parents can write to the school board attorney, as there are legal precedents of parents suing schools that don’t take an active and positive role in preventing bullying.

Allergists are so busy with managing the child’s food allergy, they usually don’t inquire about bullying, Wallace says. “We may not be asking enough at the right time. In a short office visit, there’s so much to talk about, it may get pushed to the end of the list.”

At the root of bullying behavior is domestic violence, Cash says. “If we could eliminate domestic violence, I’m convinced that it would eliminate most of the bullying,” he says. “When kids are victimized, particularly if they’re victimized at home by people they trust or are supposed to be able to trust, they tend to bifurcate. Some become chronic victims and develop a victim mentality. Others identify with the aggressor and become bullies themselves. The ones who are bullied then bully those who are lower on the hierarchy, so to speak. It’s the kick-the-dog syndrome.”

Next: Providing Comfort

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