Should school children only drink water?

4 October 2017

Dear Friend,

Last week my boys came home from school with a letter, it stated that, on Wednesdays children must bring a drink of water for snack-time alongside a healthy snack. Wednesday has been fruit day for a long time at my boys school. This is no surprise as many schools strive to promote healthy eating and most parents do provide a healthy snack such as fruit, rather than a cookie but children have so far been allowed to drink what they like.

The Drink Water campaign is a nationwide initiative in Holland that our local authority has decided to take part in. It is an attempt to improve the health, weight and teeth of our children by replacing sugary drinks with water.  The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) gives guidelines for the types of fluid to drink, and water is the only fluid which they recommend drinking “plenty” as it hydrates without calories or risking harm to teeth.

Who can argue with science? After all we all want healthy kids, right?

My reaction to the letter actually surprised me… I felt my hackles rise. Initially I took this as a criticism of my parenting. I have to admit that we are not the healthiest of homes in Holland. We do have a cookie drawer and I am partial to crisps and nuts. But I don’t allow my boys to drink cola every day, I do buy sugar free cordial and they love milk. Perhaps I was being oversensitive but it felt like Big brother was watching and judging my family and I didn't like it! I closed my e-mail and forgot about it.

But not for long.

Some parents did object...

I don't think that schools were prepared for the backlash to this request. One Tilburg school in particular came under fire (appearing In the Telegraph) some angry parents stating water is for dogs (which made me laugh) others it is up to them to decide what is best for their children and some complaining that their child didn't like water. But the school director stuck by the campaign responding that children's drinks are getting sweeter and sweeter and obesity worse.

What did I do? I gave my boys water. I am after all a people pleaser and I didn't want them to stand out or get into trouble for not having the correct drink. I told myself, it is only one break, once a week and the boys don't mind drinking water so what is the problem?  

The problem came on Wednesday during dinner when Little man told me about how a friend in his class had been really upset because he doesn't like water and had only taken one sip. How awful for that boy to be signalled out and made to feel like he had done something wrong simply because he doesn't like water. What about the effect of him not drinking? It could cause, dehydration, headaches, loss of concentration in he must have felt bad physically too. If that had been my son I would have been extremely angry!

What about the rights of the child?

The Convention of the rights of the child... acknowledges that children have the right to express their opinions and to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate...and it requires that their lives not be subject to excessive interference. Source: Wikipedia.

I believe that telling parents what their children should drink is in fact excessive interference. Can you imagine going into work on Monday and your boss saying today you can only drink water. How would you react? I would be furious. Yet we are allowing this to happen to our children...

I do not think it is the responsibility of governments to police our children's diet. It is the right of a parent.  Problems arise when governments start to ask schools to do a parent's job. Schools are there to educate our kids, they are in the business of teaching and learning not parenting.

Those of you that read my ramblings regularly will know that I am also a teacher. My school runs the International Primary Curriculum and this year we all started with a unit on the Brain. During this we talked about how the brain needs water.

Our brains depend on proper hydration to function optimally ... when you lose too much water... your brain cells lose efficiency. Source: Psychology today

We have set up brain friendly classrooms and we have encouraged children to bring in refillable water bottles to keep themselves hydrated. It is not compulsory but most children have brought in a bottle. Isn't this a better route to take than forcing water on children, educating them to its benefits? I have never liked to be told what to do but teach me why and it is a different story.

I will listen to the governments advice but I am the parent and I will make up my own mind what is best for my children. By telling me what my child should drink I believe they are taking away my right to exercise my parental responsibilities. Is Holland (known for it's liberal parenting and happiest children in the world) following America (and the UK) and quickly becoming a nanny state? I hope not!

Rules are rules. That is what my autistic son believes and I imagine that he will leave for school on Wednesday with his water bottle in hand. That is fine if that is what he wants and it will cause him less anxiety. I will listen to little man's opinions and help him decide what is right for him too.

What would you do? 

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