Jessica Hale, Mom of 2
Halloween is serious fun in our house. When the kids were young, preparations for costume ideas began as soon as school supplies appeared in the stores. Every year, we would trick or treat with family members in their neighborhood. We have many great memories of those nights.
My niece has severe peanut and tree-nut allergies. When she became aware of the Teal Pumpkin Project, a program that promotes non-food treats for Halloween, she was very excited and jumped right into raising food allergy awareness for herself and others. She painted a pumpkin teal and posted signs that her house offered both nut-free and non-food treats. On this particular Halloween, she handed out treats for a bit, and then we all went out to walk the neighborhood together.
When we got home, we were horrified to see that the front yard had been vandalized, the teal pumpkin had been smashed, and several bags of peanut M&Ms had been opened and crushed on the walkway to the house. I can’t say that I will ever understand how someone can be so careless with another person’s feelings and health.
My niece’s peanut allergy is life-threatening; she gets sick from simply touching the oil left behind by nuts. We were stunned and upset as we cleaned up in silence. I wish I could say this was the extent of the bullying she received for having food allergies, but school was and still is difficult and unsafe.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), one in 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy. That’s about two children in every classroom. Chances are your child either suffers from a food allergy or intolerance or knows someone who does. Nearly 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe or life-threatening reaction, such as anaphylaxis, at school. Approximately one-third of children with food allergies report that they have been bullied because of their allergies. Sadly, children with food allergies are unlikely to tell their parents they are being bullied.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. The goal is to encourage communities to work together to stop bullying by increasing awareness of the frequency of bullying and how it affects children of all ages. Bullying is defined as any “unwanted, aggressive behavior.” The bully’s intention is to create an imbalance of power in an effort to control or harm the other person. A bully uses many different tactics, including physical force or intimidation, verbal assaults, or social isolation to harm the person being bullied.
According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children (ASPCC), approximately 30 percent of young people admit to bullying, 30 percent report having been bullied, and 70 percent of young people have witnessed bullying and have done nothing to stop it. The act of bullying creates lasting effects for all involved, including the bully. From emotional and mental health issues for the bullied, to increased aggressiveness as a child ages for the bully, the aftereffects of bullying can be tragic.
The true goal is to prevent bullying before it happens. When that is not possible, recognizing the behavior as it is happening and intervening is imperative. Teaching young ones to recognize the behavior and to ask for help is vital in diffusing a bully’s ability to cause harm.
The best way to prevent bullying is to talk about it. Parents and teachers can set an example by creating a safe environment at school. Many elementary schools provide programs to teach children about bullying and what they can do to stop it. Teaching children that their voices will be heard when they see something wrong is an important first step. Taking action is the second. Following up on the situation and providing consequences for the bullying offense are an important part of the process. Our children need to be aware that they are safe at school and in the community.
As for my niece, she is older now and will be in high school soon. She has had to endure a lot of criticism, as has her mother, for the tireless efforts made to keep her safe at school. When a child has a severe food allergy, a life is at stake. Although individuals with food allergies did not choose the condition, it remains their burden to educate their peers regarding their condition. As if being a child/tween/teenager isn’t already hard enough!