Monday, April 12, 2010

Food Allergies and Teasing: How to Cope

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about bullying, but teasing. Bullying is not to be tolerated. No way, no how. But teasing happens. It's part of life. I'm still teased by adults because of my 6' height. Seriously. So of course I'm going to expect that, like most kids who exhibit any kind of "difference," my daughter has had to deal with some teasing about her food allergy. Sometimes the comments have been provoked by the fact that she was eating something different at a birthday party; other times, kids harp on the fact that a particular food didn't have nuts as an ingredient, so why wouldn't she just eat it?? (I would have given anything to see my then 7-year-old first grader try to explain cross-contact to her classmates--which she did, many times. Good girl.)

Teasing has eased up quite a bit as my daughter has gotten older and with so many kids in her grade having various food allergies as well as other medical conditions, she is not such a novelty anymore. In fact, many times kids have been incredibly compassionate. In third grade, one boy even invited my daughter to "tag" him in a game because he knew she had asthma symptoms from her seasonal allergies and couldn't run as fast as usual. (What a guy! He can take her to the prom as far as I'm concerned.)

Even with these improvements, teasing still persists. At a friend's house recently, my daughter stood by the refrigerator with her friend, getting drinks. Her friend's older sister told my daughter: "Everything in there has peanuts in it. April Fool!" My apparently unflappable daughter took it in stride at the time and then told me about it later.

I tend to not get very upset at these incidents, mainly because any type of difference is cause for kids to tease others. Unfortunately this is part of growing up and as long as no one is putting unsafe foods in my daughter's face or threatening her, I tell her to shrug it off. And happily, she does.

As kids get into school or daycare settings, they may become objects of occasional teasing. Of course, serious incidents should be reported to the teachers, but what about thoughtless, offhand comments? Here are some tips to help your child deal:

Explain that the other child likely doesn't understand. Most of the teasing my child has experienced has stemmed from ignorance about food allergies. Tell your child to calmly state that "I can't eat the cake because I could get very sick. If you want to know more, ask my Mom." This actually works--most young kids won't want to be "busted" by a parent!

Let your child know that everyone gets teased sometimes. Any difference in children is duly noted by the others. Explain to your child that everyone has something about them that's different and that they are not alone. People are unique, so even the "teasers" may have a problem your child just doesn't know about.

Encourage their snappy comebacks, but don't let kids tease back. My daughter sometimes would ask kids "what's the big deal?" or "how would you like it?" when they teased her about her food allergies. However, I told her not to pick on them in return. Two wrongs don't make a right and all of that. When kids speak up for themselves, others usually think twice about saying something next time. And speaking up seems to boost self-esteem as well.

Help them laugh it off. I remember when a girl in my daughter's second grade class said things like "Are you allergic to pencils?" I would tell my daughter: "Boy, that was a silly comment. Who's allergic to pencils?? She must not have had anything better to say!" and we laughed it off together. By dissecting the teaser's comments, I think I helped my child to see the remark for what it was: pointless, silly and in the end--harmless.

By helping our food-allergic kids see that teasing is a part of life for everyone, they can learn how to feel confident and not ashamed for something that is only one part of who they are.


Di Smith said...

Great points. So glad you have such a great relationship with your daughter! You have a fab blog, I'll be checking in regularly.


No Biggie said...

Amen! We've always encouraged a "No Biggie!" attitude and an air of transparency among the kids, their peers, teachers, family members, etc. Once you demystify it, it doesn't seem to be as big a deal.

Great post.

jenny said...

Jenny, 6' high, wow. Now I was teased when I was younger with the opposite problem. too short :)

Chris More said...

Good tips! My daughter is allergic to beef, egg, milk, wheat, pork, kiwi and worst of all, peanut. She is 3 now and other kids have not got mean yet, but we know the day is coming.

Anonymous said...

This is so true. I read this to my 5yr old girl today and she said "Now do you see why I hate school" I did not realise she was being teased. Great Post !

Lisa said...

Wow, so hard! My 10 year old son has been bullied about his allergies (ie, "I have peanut butter on my hands and I am going to wipe it on you", etc). Those kinds of comments are so anxiety-provoking. He is such a take-charge kind of guy and I am so glad. After that particular comment was made, he told the teacher. She basically blew my son off and told the other boy to not say things like that. My son then asked to go speak to the principal because he knew he shouldn't have to tolerate that kind of bullying. I hope he grows up to be an assertive adult.

tracy said...

My son's elementary school principal eliminated the nut-free classroom, didn't feel it was necessary anymore, this is grades 3-5! Now wants to put my son in a class where the teacher has no previous experience with nut allergies(also he will hava a substitute teacher for the first 4-6 weeks of the school year due to maternity leaves) doesn't understand why I want him in a classroom with a teacher who has dealt with this problem for several years, any feed back would be helpful!


Jenny said...

First of all, thanks for everyone's comments on this post!

Tracy, I understand your worries. Are you saying that they won't provide a "nut-free" clasroom with regard to parties, snacks, etc.? This is something that you want to push for because it greatly reduces the risk of reactions. Emphasize that many other schools offer nut-free classrooms even if they don't enforce this in the lunchroom.

My daughter's first grade teacher had NO experience with nut allergies. By my educating her (and the school supporting me--didn't happen overnight I had to push them) we had a fabulous year. I would have a sit-down talk with your child's substitute, principal and teacher. You need to provide them with the medical info and also you can emphasize that you are teaching your older student self-managment of his allergies. Still, adults need to be aware and ready to help in an emergency.

Materials from this blog (search under keyword "school") and also the FAAN website: can provide your school with reading materials that will help them learn.

Most important, you should emphasize with the school that reactions would disrupt the school day. They don't want that any more than you do. Appropriate doctor's notes and med forms will help get this point across.

If you can find another family to team up with in your child's school, that is also incredibly helpful.

If you need more info, please e-mail me:

Good luck!