So we had a food allergy incident a couple of months ago.
There was a whole walnut rolling around the hall in my son’s school. This, I can assure you, is a real anomaly. So much so, that the kids didn’t know what it was. Having rolled underfoot, one of my son’s classmates bent down to inspect it. “Hey!” he yelled to my tree nut allergic son, “come over here. Is this a walnut?”
Feeling a little nervous, my son backed away about to explain that he, of all people, is not qualified to be a nut inspector when his friend, a food allergic girl in his class, stepped in to remind everyone that my son has an allergy to tree nuts.
The kids began to file into the classroom and somehow the nut followed them. My son’s deskmate grabbed the walnut and teased him with it, waving the walnut close to his face saying, “Ooooo….a walnut.” My son began to speak up, as practiced, when the same girl started yelling, “Are you crazy?! He’s ALLERGIC to nuts! He could go to the hospital!”
My son wasn’t harmed. But he WAS upset when I picked him up from the bus.
“Mom,” he said. “I know I seem really tough… Like my feelings are as thick as a wall. But inside, they’re like this [holding his palms facing one another, nearly touching]… they can be as thin as paper.”
We talked it through thoroughly: we discussed what he was feeling, things he would have liked to say, how thankful he was for a good friend like that awesome girl. And, he was sure his classmates acted out of misunderstanding or miseducation rather than malice. The head of the school spoke to his grade and I came into his classroom to teach the kids about food allergies. Both boys apologized to my son, explaining they had no idea about the severity of possible reactions. Their regret was evident as was their interest in food allergy education (which I will discuss in a separate post).
This incident was innocent. The first boy was curious. The second was teasing, but truly didn’t understand the possible consequences of his actions. In fact, he thought my son would join in the joke. They were friends. They’re all still friends.
I went into their class the following week and spoke about food allergies in general. The students were attentive and engaged. They had intelligent questions. They were amazed at and very sympathetic about how complicated their food allergic classmates’ lives could be. Interestingly, I think this incident brought my son and his classmates closer together.
While this is an example of a lack of education with no physical harm, it would have been very easy to imagine a similar case with a different outcome. As my husband rightly pointed out, “Kids WANT to do the right thing. Kind WANT to be supportive. Sometimes they don’t have enough facts to know how to do so.” Statistically, there are two kids in every classroom with food allergies. We need to teach our kids the facts about this condition, so they can act appropriately. And we need to teach all of our kids not only how to support their friends with food allergies, but how to support and look after each other in general.
— If your school (like ours) doesn’t include food allergy education in their health curriculum, volunteer your time to do it yourself. I’ll post my 4th grade lesson plan shortly. Feel free to contact me should you need more information. —