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Food Allergies Are Not a Joke

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It started out like any other school pick up. My 5-year-old daughter climbed into the car and excitedly began to recall her day. For the most part, it was all the usual details.

Until she told me about the classmate who tried to force her to eat a strawberry at lunch, a food she is allergic to.

I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was so shaken; I was afraid I would get into an accident. Once I had parked the car, I turned to my daughter and asked her to recall in detail what had happened.

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She said the student sitting next to her at lunch had tried to shove a strawberry in her mouth. He knew she is allergic and wanted to see what would happen. He thought it might make her throw up. As she fought him off, she tried to explain it could do much worse.

She specifically told him eating a strawberry could kill her. Yet he persisted. After several minutes of physical struggle he gave up, and she did not ingest any of the fruit. She was OK.

I asked if any adults had intervened, and she said no. She had not called out for help. And in the din of the busy, crowded cafeteria, no one had noticed the exchange.

Although I was anything but, I calmly told my daughter if something like that ever happened again, she should get away from the table as quickly as possible, run to the nearest adult and ask for assistance.

I composed myself and continued the drive home.

Many children and parents who do not live with food allergies simply don't understand how serious they can be.

As the room mother for my daughter’s class, I know the kids. And I was certain the boy in question had not been trying to intentionally harm my child. He simply wasn’t capable of it. My gut told me this was not a case of food bullying, but a young child who no idea how serious his actions were.

Having chaperoned two class field trips with his mother, I felt I knew her well enough to call and talk to her about what had happened.

She was mortified, very apologetic and demonstrated a strong understanding of the seriousness of the situation. She told me her nephew has food allergies, and she has talked about the issue with her son. It shocked her to learn what he had done.

She was also disturbed by the fact her son did not stop when my daughter told him to. To her that was a serious issue as well, and she said she planned to talk to him about boundaries and respecting others.

The conversation was very cordial and productive, and I’m glad I reached out to her personally.

When I communicated with the school, I did not use the student’s name. I was not looking for administrators to take disciplinary action. My focus was on the school taking the opportunity to review lunchroom procedures and policies to ensure student safety. And looking for ways to help increase awareness of this issue among the student body.

One in every 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy. That breaks down to roughly two in every classroom. Many children and parents who do not live with food allergies simply don't understand how serious they can be. It’s not that they don’t care, or don’t feel the issue is important. Without a personal connection, a need to know more, it’s not something they give much thought to. And with everything parents today do have to focus on, I understand.

RELATED: 10 Signs of Childhood Allergies

You may not have a child with food allergies, but the chances are you know someone who does. I ask you, please, to learn more. Help your children understand this issue. Teach them it matters.

Because I want to be able to bring my child home from school every day.

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