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Work with your school – The best action on bullying is, of course, preventing it. And the obvious first step is working with your school to raise awareness of anaphylaxis – including the risk of bullying. (See our “Web Resources”.) Like Dorsey, many parents of anaphylactic kids volunteer regularly; many also head off potential bullying opportunities by offering to provide allergen-free treats for the whole class on special occasions.
While parents say allergy accommodations depend a lot on the principal’s attitude, the better news is that half of the respondents in a 2009 U.S. survey reported that their child’s school managed anaphylactic allergies “very well.”
It’s also a good idea to get informed about anti-bullying programs and policies at your school and at the board or district level, as well as procedures for handling an incident. If you’re not satisfied, offer to research resources that could strengthen the response.
But say you’ve done all this, and still your child is victimized. If the teacher and principal are not already aware, you need to tell them. That goes for cyber-bullying too, as well as incidents off school property that involve members of the school community. The more specific you can be about what happened, the better.
With bullying high on the radar of most educators, you should expect the school to take it seriously and act with appropriate consequences; Coloroso says it’s wrong for anyone to try to minimize or explain away the behavior. Experts stress that ending bullying is an adult job because of the power imbalance that sustains the behavior. The child who is victimized can’t always extricate herself from the situation, and trying make the bullying stop without adult involvement may only make it worse.
The cases that demand intervention beyond school discipline are, thankfully, rare, but principals need to know when bullying crosses into criminal assault. For example, a teen in Wenatchee, Washington, was sentenced to four days in jail in 2008 for smearing peanut butter on the forehead of a fellow student who had an anaphylactic allergy. And the same year, police in Lexington, Kentucky, arrested a 13-year-old after she sprinkled peanut butter cookie crumbs in the lunchbox of a student with severe allergies.
Lisa Tichenor was pleased with the principal’s decisive action when her son was threatened. “(The perpetrators) were given such a talking to that they were really scared; they apologized and they never did it again. Nothing like that has ever happened again.”
Keep friends close – If there’s good news from parents whose anaphylactic kids have been bullied, it’s how their children’s friends and classmates rallied around. In many cases, another child tells the bully to back off or runs for the teacher. As one mother wrote on the Allergic Living Facebook page, “Teachers aren’t always there to witness something said or done, but there is always another kid there to speak up!” The FARE “Be a PAL” program offers downloadable teaching materials to help kids understand how to help keep their allergic friends safe.
Breen says watchful friends become even more important as allergic teens’ social lives evolve. “I’ve got some friends who sometimes get a little more anxious than I do about the whole peanut thing. Sometimes I have to tell them it’s fine, calm down. But it’s nice to know these people have your back.”
Teach caring – Overcoming the intolerance that leads to bullying is something every adult can work towards with the children around them. Coloroso sees it as adults’ duty to teach kids about respecting differences and embracing our common humanity, and about accepting one another. And acceptance is more than just tolerating somebody; the goal to her is “deep caring,” a drive to be kind, compassionate and loving.
“We have to model the behavior,” she says, “but we also have to talk about it. I might say to a child, ‘No, we’re not going to bring Mama’s favorite peanut butter dessert – because someone’s going to be there who can’t be around peanuts, because it makes them very, very ill.’”
Fortunately – and this is important, to keep bullying in perspective – many children embrace the caring that Coloroso talks about. Bullies are the exception, while compassionate, sensitive kids are far more numerous. As one parent put it on the Allergic Living Facebook page: “Most kids are amazing and more empathetic than many adults. I’ve seen wonderful examples of caring kids looking out for my son.”
Web Resources on Bullying
- www.kidsareworthit.com: Barbara Coloroso’s site offers downloadable handouts for parents.
- www.education.com/topic/school-bullying-teasing: A range of articles provide multiple perspectives on bullying.
- www.prevnet.ca: This research site includes info sheets and perspectives on both victims and perpetrators.
- www.foodallergy.org: The FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) site, which includes sections for kids and teens.
- www.whyriskit.ca: A youth-focused site from Anaphylaxis Canada, including true stories of bullying incidents from allergic teens.
- allergicliving.com: Click on the “Schools” tab on the homepage.
Views on allergy bullying? Tell us about them on our Facebook page: www.facebook/allergicliving.
First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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