As mentioned during my previous blog, sending your food allergic child to school can be worrisome and stressful for multiple reasons. Not only do you have to worry about your child's physical safety, but you have the additional concerns of their emotional health because they may eventually encounter someone who will be completely insensitive, maybe even cruel, about the issue. As a parent, you may also have unpleasant interactions with other parents concerning your child's food allergies.
When Other Parents Are Uncooperative
I had the misfortune of dealing with a couple of insensitive parents at a week-long function in which a few people made snide comments about having to provide my daughter with an allergy-free snack. The comments particularly offended me because I had specifically offered to help with snacks so as not to inconvenience anyone. I had been assured by the event coordinator that it would not be a problem, and that there was no need for my help. However, when snack time arrived on the first day, my daughter was given cheese crackers and Jell-O with whipped topping on it. Luckily, I had volunteered to work in my daughter's room and caught snack before it was served. I explained why Meredith could not eat this snack, and was reassured that it wouldn't happen again.
The next day came and when the snack arrived, Meredith was served a nasty looking, cafeteria-style, fruit cup (you know the kind with the grey looking grapes and chunks of pear) - every child's snack fantasy! This wouldn't have been a big deal if all the other kids were eating something similar, but they were given S'mores for a snack. Meredith looked up at me with tearful eyes and said, "Why do they get chocolate and marshmallows and I have to eat this?" Luckily, I had a gut-feeling that something like this might happen and I had placed a pack of Skittles in my purse. I gave them to her.
Meredith was very happy and no longer felt slighted, but I did have to endure a comment from another mother. She said, "Well, that's great, how do we explain to the other kids why they don't get Skittles?"
Needless to say, I wasted no time in reminding this woman that it didn't seem to be an issue on the previous day when my daughter was expected to do without while the other kids were snacking on delicious treats. Because of my angry retort, I was given the cold-shoulder by a couple of mothers for the rest of the week, but no matter, as long as my child isn't suffering, I'll endure anything anyone wants to dish out.
While that week was a very frustrating experience for me, I was so thankful that I was there to protect my daughter. However, that will not always be the case. She will grow up and have to venture out into the world on her own, as she has already begun to do by starting school.
Dealing with Food Allergy Bullies
Since my daughter Meredith is only six, we haven't had the misfortune of her classmates being mean to her about her food allergies, and I can only hope and pray that we will never encounter that situation. However, I have read some stories about teenage children who have suffered mistreatment at the hands of some of their classmates that could only be described as criminal harassment. From throwing peanuts at a food allergic teen walking down the hallway, to a group of girls plotting to slip another girl a peanut to see what would happen to her if she ate it, these stories are completely horrifying and it defies the imagination why any child would act this way.
If your child is suffering from these types of attacks (and I use this term on purpose because that's exactly how I view this type of situation), the first course of action would be to notify the school administration and to request a meeting with the parents of the perpetrators in the hopes that the adults in positions of influence would intervene on your child's behalf.
In a perfect world, this should be all that's required to resolve the situation. Unfortunately, not all adults take their role of authority figure seriously. I believe we've all known a child or two that seems rotten to the core, and after meeting the parent of this particular child, it's easy to determine why they have turned out the way they have.
If you're faced with a situation such as this, it may be time to look at legal action in the matter. Your child has rights! Some of the situations I've described above will probably not be resolved by any "anti-bullying policy" or verbal reprimands by a school administrator. It may cost you a couple hundred dollars to have a lawyer draft a sternly worded letter of warning to the adults in charge of the kids harassing your child, but it may be the only thing that works. In the mean time, I would encourage you to warn your child not to accept food from anyone, and to never leave their lunch unattended for any reason.
Raising a child with food allergies has many challenges, but my goal in writing this week's blog was to let you all know that you are not alone. If you're faced with a difficult situation regarding other parents or classmates, you've got many allies in the food allergy community, and if necessary, the legal community, that you can rely on so please don't hesitate to use them.
Published On: August 28, 2008