Q: Your peanut-allergic daughter just entered grade school and suddenly feels embarrassed by her allergy. How can you help her cope?
Acknowledge her feelings but let her know there is nothing to be embarrassed about. It's actually quite common and could be a way to meet a new friend with something in common. Also, give her a special nonpeanut treat to eat in the classroom when other kids celebrate their birthdays.
— Janet Oak
Listen to her feelings and then illustrate that everyone is made up of a collection of qualities, and that combination is what makes them special. A great way to illustrate this point is to print large photos of each of your family members and write all of their qualities on the back of the photo. Then cut up the photo, puzzle style, and allow your child to put the pieces together to form the photo.
You will be illustrating that we all are a combination of traits and that is why we all are unique. Some of us wear glasses, others have dry skin, or hay fever or whatever the case may be, but we also may have a good sense of humor, a loving heart, a curious mind, etc. This exercise helps to put your child at ease about the allergy and recognize that we all are different from one another, and that is a very good thing.
— Dawn Lantero
Sadly, her embarrassment may be stemming from her treatment at school, says elementary school social worker Judy Freedman, author of "Easing the Teasing: Helping Your Child Cope With Name-Calling, Ridicule and Verbal Bullying" (McGraw-Hill, $15.95).
"There is a disturbing trend that many children who cannot eat certain foods are teased," says Freedman. "According to a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about 35 percent of children over age 5 with food allergies have experienced bullying, teasing or harassment."
Freedman says an in-class presentation on food allergies is an important first step in ending — or preventing — teasing.
"In many cases, the teasing is due to a lack of understanding of the particular difference and their perception that the difference is bad or wrong," she says. "A class talk would provide the opportunity to educate her fellow students about the condition and would also present an opportunity for her classmates to develop empathy for her."
Foodallergy.org, the website for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, offers a free downloadable program called "Be a PAL: Protect a Life From Food Allergies," designed to help parents and schools launch just such classroom presentations.
"Until there's a cure, education is key," says Eleanor Garrow, vice president of education and outreach for the group. "It's frightening to see how much education actually still needs to be done. At schools, at camps, churches, day care centers."
Garrow, whose second-grade son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame, urges schools to include parents in the classroom discussion because they often need as much educating as the kids.
"You get a lot of 'Well, my kid can't live without peanut butter and jelly for lunch!'" Garrow says.
At home, it's important to keep up a dialogue with your child about how she's being treated at school, and make sure she feels comfortable confiding in you.
"I ask my son how he's feeling about things and I tell him, 'It's OK to be mad. It's OK to be sad. It's OK to cry when you get frustrated,'" says Garrow. "I try to always be calm and have a soothing tone, but also be really positive and confident."
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