Going to school with acid reflux has taught me many lessons about managing acid reflux during the school day, whether it is preschool or high school. As parents, we have developed a fine-tuned plan for managing acid reflux at home and it may be stressful to turn over control of the plan to the school team. The reality is you and your child will have some challenges and extra work. But in the end, your child will be successful at learning new skills including some lessons that may not be in the curriculum.
Lesson #1: Acid Reflux is more common than you think.
Even though acid reflux is a common medical condition of childhood, you may not know any other children with acid reflux. You may feel a bit isolated, as if your child has some rare problem. I remember volunteering in my daughter's middle school science class and, coincidentally, the lesson was on the digestive system. During the class, the teacher mentioned that she and her son both had gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). A hand shot up in the air and another student indicated that she had acid reflux too. My daughter and I looked at each other with a mixture of surprise and amusement. We were both convinced that she was the only kid in the entire middle school with gastroesophageal reflux and here was a child she had known for several years yet we had no idea she had acid reflux too. It is likely there are other children with acid reflux at school, attending daycare or taking piano lessons and you didn't even know it.
Lesson #2 Your child may be self conscious about acid reflux.
What kid wants to stand out at school? Most children want to blend in by wearing the right clothes and carrying the newest backpack. Sometimes even the contents of the lunch bag needs to conform to the coolness rules. Managing all of this may be challenging if your child is on a special diet or needs special accommodations at school such as extra meal breaks or trips to the nurse for medication. It is likely your child will be faced with questions from curious classmates too. The end result is that many children will try to hide their acid reflux and try to blend in with the crowd.
Children who need to eat a snack in the classroom are likely to be faced with many questions and comments. My friend Tami said her son never touched his snack bag because all of the other kids said it wasn't fair that he had a snack when they were starving too. I told her a little trick that I used: have him place a very small baggie of non crunchy food in his desk. As he is doing his desk work, he can pull out one little piece and pop it in his mouth. It is important to listen to your child and understand the barriers to carrying out their acid reflux treatment plan at school.
Lesson # 3 Your child may do better than you think at school.
You may worry about sending your child with acid reflux to school. It may seem that she will do poorly without your care or the school staff will not attend to her needs like you do. The reality is most children do just fine in school. They adapt to new routines, meet new friends and have enriching experiences.
I always remember the day my daughter Rebecca came home from preschool after the lesson about apples. At the time, she had many feeding issues including extreme picky eating and food aversion so I counted every calorie and worried about her intake constantly. She happily announced that it was Apple Day at school and she got to eat 3 kinds of apples and she had a new one that was now her favorite. Further, she had helped to make applesauce and it was so delicious. Maybe we could make applesauce too? Well, I honestly almost passed out from shock. Here was my picky eater trying new foods and wanting more? It really taught me an important lesson: kids with reflux will survive in school without mom, even the very underweight picky eater.
I will be thinking about all of the refluxers as a new school year begins. Let me know what successes and challenges you are facing at your school.