The Benefits of School or Daycare for Kids with Feeding Disorders
Attending daycare and school is an exciting time for children. Children begin to build friendships (or more friendships), learn to share, gain social skills experience, and participate in mealtimes in a new environment. But, as exciting as it is, it can also be a stressful time if your child has feeding difficulties. The good news is most children with feeding challenges actually benefit from attending school or daycare and often, kids’ feeding skills begin to improve when they start school or daycare! Check out some of these benefits:
Exposure & Peer Modeling
Repeated exposure to foods is an important component to eating, especially for our kids with feeding challenges. The more a child is exposed to others eating or a new food, the more likely they will show interest in eating more or a greater variety of foods. Plus, kids often want to try what other kids are trying.
Eating with other children and following a structured meal/snack routine helps feeding development and can reduce picky eating. Schools and daycares follow a specific schedule for meal time. Scheduled meal times eliminate grazing which helps with appetite development.
Schools and daycares limit mealtimes to approximately 20-30 minutes, which typically coincides with attention span time for younger children, and is a recommended amount of time for meals.
Self-feeding is encouraged in the classroom. This offers the opportunity to practice using utensils, opening food packages, taking appropriate size bites, and eating at an appropriate pace. Even if your child is eating their own snack, or eating just a bite or two of another snack, these opportunities continue to expose your child to foods and food-related items.
While there are many benefits to school and daycare related to feeding, it’s also important to prepare your little one to eat in a new environment to help them be successful! Here are some steps to take to help promote feeding success at school and daycare:
Talk about it
Sometimes talking about snacks and lunch time at daycare or school is helpful to a child! Talking about the foods or routine ahead of time can decrease the stress and fear of the unexpected that mealtime can bring.
Have your child be part of the preparation process
From food shopping to preparing and packing, have your child help! Kids love to help. Plus, helping prepare their meals gives them some power and confidence (and they may be more likely to try something new when they picked it out!).
Pack preferred foods, but toss in something new too
If you are trying to expand your child's food repertoire, try sending in a small portion of a new food in their lunchbox (don’t forget that repeated exposure to a new food is also key!). Children are already being exposed to a variety of foods and experiences when eating with their peers at daycare or at school, and you never know when they might try something new. You can try sending the new food in different forms (e.g., cutting the food in different shapes or presenting it across a variety of textures), but we still recommend sending some preferred foods to make sure your child is eating and getting the fuel they need for the day.
Make it fun!
Cutting fruits and vegetables into sticks and adding a dip makes eating fun! Sandwich for lunch? Use a fun cookie cutter to make that turkey sandwich more exciting or add some edible eyeballs to just about anything!
Check in with your child’s teacher
Let the teacher know about your child’s feeding challenges; there are many ways a daycare or school can support your child, even if that just means having an adult close by to check in on your little one during snacks or mealtimes.
Food sometimes comes up unexpectedly in the classroom, so you may even want to consider leaving some extra preferred foods for your child, just in case!
It can be nerve racking to send your child to daycare or to school for the first time. It’s a whole new experience for your child, and it’s even more nerve racking when you’re concerned about your child’s feeding challenges. Just remember, there are so many feeding related benefits to daycare and school, like repeated exposure and peer modeling at every meal time and snack, and eating with new people, peers and teachers, can help change behaviors around food and even help break refusal and protest patterns that may be present at home. As with any new routine, it may take some time getting used to, but the school or daycare experience will likely benefit your child.
Does your child have feeding challenges? We can help! A speech language pathologist can evaluate your child and work with you to develop an individualized plan to help improve your child’s feeding, whether that means helping decrease stress during mealtimes, increasing your child’s food repertoire, or helping your child become more comfortable with a variety of textures and more, we’ve got you. Contact us for more information.