I am JJ: Being a food allergy student vs. being a math student or a science student…

I am JJ: Food Allergies in school. It's about finding balance.

I’ve written several blogs about the importance of finding balance. As I demonstrated in the above video, you can’t pour 34 ounces of water into an 8 ounce cup. It simply won’t work. And yet we try to do it every day. We pack too much stuff into the limited time we have.

But for this post, I don’t want to focus on all the stuff we do every day. When talking about food allergies, finding balance also means finding a way to balance how much space the allergy takes up in a child’s mind while at school.

Kids must balance being a student with a food allergy vs. being a student. Period.

It’s tough at times because students with food allergies have to be on high alert. I’m not suggesting a child with a food allergy forgets about the allergy. But there are ways we can minimize it in the mind, and parents and teachers can help.

• Sometimes it’s simply a matter of a teacher reminding the student that in English class the student can focus on learning English. Sometimes kids think their teachers forget about the allergy… so an inadvertent “How’s it going with your allergy, Bobby” comment every once in a while may be a powerful tool for a teacher. (Away from the ears of everyone else, of course.)

• We also must teach children that not every food allergy battle has to be fought at the exact moment. We should teach students to assess the immediacy of something. Some food allergy battles can be fought later, especially if the concern is about something happening in the future.

• And fighting those food allergy battles? They definitely don’t have to be fought by the student every time. Sometimes parents can intervene and take care of the issue without the child even being aware.

• A child with a food allergy does NOT have to know about every disparaging or insensitive thing that the school says or does. The parents need to address it… but they don’t have to address it in front of the student. If that child thinks the teacher doesn’t care because his parents spent an hour the night before railing about an insensitive comment the teacher or the principal or the president of the PTO made, what good does that do for the student? The student still has to sit in the classroom. Maybe the parents feel better for venting… the student won’t. A student will not work hard for a teacher he doesn’t respect. When possible — and I realize it’s not always possible — but try working it out behind the scenes so the parents and school can present a unified plan when standing in front of the children.

In school, a child with a food allergy must know balance to know success.


JJ Vulopas is a senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.