Sadly, bullying has been endemic in schools as far back as Tom Brown’s Schooldays and no doubt long before. Whether it is the colour of your skin or your hair (we redheads have had our fair share), the fact that you are too tall/too small/too fat/too thin, speak with a lisp or stutter – anything that sets you apart from the commonality is enough for the bullies to latch on to. And while being bullied can have a profound psychological effect on some children lasting through their lives, being bullied because you have a food allergy adds an extra layer of fear (and therefore of satisfaction for the bully) in that it could cause you to have an allergic reaction – or even to die.
More than one study (see this one in Pediatrics) suggest that around 30% of school children with allergies get bullied but that only around half of them tell their parents. And this bullying can be anything from just taunting with ‘forbidden’ foods to actually forcing the allergic child to touch or eat their food allergen ‘to see what happens’.
A recent NYT blog cover the problem in some detail and points up an excellent way in which the bullying can be tackled:
‘ Miles’s understanding teacher nipped the problem in the bud by talking to the yeller about what it would be like if he could not eat his favourite food (bad), or got teased about it (worse), or had to go to the hospital if he ate it (until then, that outcome was inconceivable).’
Surely, as always, the the most successful approach lies in education and understanding. Even bullies have imagination and if only their imagination can be engaged sufficiently to put themselves in the shoes of the bullied, the odds on them continuing to bully are dramatically shortened.