Poor dietary habits and nutrition are associated with behavioural challenges and anxiety in children (Kids’ dietary habits and behaviour linked, study shows, Feb 18).
Young children from low-income families are disproportionately affected by food insecurity and inadequate diets.
It is good that efforts are being made by KidStart practitioners to address nutritional gaps (Efforts taken to address nutritional gaps among children, Feb 18). However, sharing nutritional knowledge alone is insufficient to support the holistic health of children and their families.
Educators also need to support social and emotional health through their feeding practices.
Currently, teachers, like parents, do not always comply with best feeding practices, choosing punitive measures (such as hiding food, using food as rewards, and controlling children’s portion sizes) to force a “healthy diet” on children.
Such practices are associated with fixation on and desire of foods deemed unhealthy.
Rather, children should be allowed to serve themselves and stop when they are full.
A best practice model for feeding young children is the “division of responsibility in feeding” approach, where caregivers decide what, where and when children eat while children decide how much or whether they eat.
This supports autonomy and the development of self-regulation skills among young children.
Beyond existing teacher training programmes on what to feed children – covering basic nutrition and hygiene – educators urgently need training on how to feed them.
In Singapore, responsibility for feeding falls largely on childcare providers because children spend the majority of their day in childcare settings.
Properly trained teacher-practitioners not only support children’s health at school but also pass their knowledge along to families.
Unless educators get more support, any progress made in improving nutritional outcomes may come with an inadvertent cost to children’s emotional well-being.
Chin Hui Wen