Are school playgrounds getting meaner? It certainly seems so when you hear media reports about children being singled out for being different, whatever “different” may mean.
A while back, I was surprised to receive a call from a friend whose child had been involved in a bullying encounter. She was embarrassed to admit that her son had been part of a group who thought it would be funny to put a small bag of seeds on the desk of a child with a severe seed allergy. Fortunately, the plan was aborted and the teacher was alerted to the situation. The school acted promptly, suspending the perpetrators for a day.
While my friend fully supported the school’s decision, she felt that a one-day suspension was not enough. Without follow-up, “it was a day off school,” in her view. With the support of the school and family of the child who had been targeted, she arranged for her son to lead a class discussion on food allergies. He showed the “Friends Helping Friends” video, which features teens talking about the challenges of having a food allergy and what friends can do to support them. He taught his classmates how to give a dose of life-saving medication, using an EpiPen trainer. He told them that food allergies were no laughing matter. He had learned from his mistake.
From time to time, Anaphylaxis Canada receives reports from parents whose children have been have singled out because of their food allergies. Typically, this involves name calling (“peanut boy”), taunting (drawing humiliating pictures of a child with food allergies) or excluding kids from activities. Food has at times been used as a weapon: waving a peanut butter sandwich in a child’s face or smearing a bit of peanut butter on the arm of a peanut allergic child “to see what would happen.”
Some of the threats have been extremely nasty: “I’ll shove a peanut butter sandwich down your throat.” Whether verbal or physical, these negative behaviours have the potential to be emotionally and physically damaging. They cannot be tolerated.
Many school initiatives – such as anti-bullying programs and awareness sessions about anaphylaxis – teach children to be respectful of others and not to stand by and watch when bullying incidents occur. We believe that education programs are making a difference. However, parents should know what to do if they think their child is being bullied.
Next: Tools to Stop the Bullying