Children with asthma and food allergies are vulnerable to bullying at school and online, often by classmates who tease or harass them because
"The keys to preventing bullying are self-confidence and compassion," says Tonya Winders, president and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network, a leading nonprofit patient education and advocacy organization. "Children with asthma or allergies who understand their conditions and know how to manage symptoms are less likely to feel threatened by others. And at the same time, raising awareness goes a long way toward creating an environment of acceptance."
Asthma and allergy bullying ranges from verbal teasing and abuse to deliberate exposure to a food allergen, says Ralph E. "Gene" Cash, PhD, a nationally certified school psychologist and professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It can negatively impact a child's social development and self-esteem – just as they are learning how to self-manage their condition.
Allergy & Asthma Network, which examines bullying at school in its fall issue of Allergy & Asthma Today magazine (aanma.org/publication), offers these recommendations for parents and schools:
Parents: Build Self-Confidence In Children
- Get involved with your kids and help them talk about feelings. Ask specifics: "What happened today at school?" "How is lunchtime in the cafeteria working for you?" When parents are aware of and address bullying incidents, the chances of a positive outcome improve significantly.
- Role-play common situations involving asthma or food allergies and practice assertive – but not aggressive – language children can use to stand up for themselves.
- Help your child establish a bond with an adult at school who can act as a safety net and someone to turn to for help or advice.
Schools: Build a Healthy Environment
- Establish a zero tolerance policy for bullying.
- Educate all students about asthma, food allergies and other conditions. When kids understand why some have certain restrictions or accommodations, they become more accepting and supportive.
- Avoid separating kids with food allergies by putting them at an allergy-free lunch table. "Instead, teach kids with food allergies to be careful of what they eat, how to use their medication, and how to keep themselves safe," Cash says.
SOURCE Allergy & Asthma Network