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The play picnic is a form of therapy that we at NoTube invented. The idea is that children learn to interact with food using play. It sounds simple. Children play with everything they find. They turn tree branches into houses, sticks into cars and create wonderful things of paper. It is slightly different when it comes to food. Generally it’s mandatory: You shouldn’t play with food. But, children who have never learnt to eat need to get acquainted with food somehow. One way to deal with food is to refuse it. This happens particularly with tube-fed children. Food is regarded by them somehow as enemy. They take food in their hands, but don’t put it in their mouths. They lick at something perhaps to taste it, but don’t eat it. They put food in their mouths sometime spitting it out partially chewed. The latter happens when they are frightened or can’t swallow. Only when children overcome their fear and when they are physically capable of eating, they might manage to put food in their mouths. Then sometimes happily chew foods afterwards.
Many children treated by NoTube have never learnt to eat before. They were either on Neonatal Intensive Care Units, or had to be (NICU) operated on, or have been tube-fed for a long time. Nevertheless they have seen their parents eat. They have sometimes seen their siblings eat. Sometimes they are with children of a similar age in childcare, pre-school or school, and have watched other children and even adults eat, but they have never eaten.
For this reason we searched for a way to bridge the gap of anxiety so that contact with food did not lead to fear: the play picnic was invented. During a play picnic the children should have the opportunity to “experience food”. Therefore they need to be in a room where they see, smell, touch and maybe sometimes taste food without psychological pressure. It is about the contact with food and not about the food itself, or about eating, or counting calories and especially not about the quantity.
It is fun to watch the children as they pat, splash, smear and share food, even smearing it on their hands. They play with food in the same way that they play with sand in a sandpit. Parents who understand the concept can appreciate the developments their children are making and take pleasure in their child trying something new, making a new hand movement, or simply having fun. Understandably, some parents are under great pressure. In the past, their pediatrician may have advised them on weight gain. Percentile charts were strictly followed, which proved that the child was growing too slowly. Above all, parents want their child to eat so that it becomes big and strong.
The play picnic as a form of therapy tries to reduce this psychological pressure and thereby helps to provide easy
access to food for both the child and its parents. However the play picnic should take place under the supervision of experts and with other children present, who can act as role models. Therefore it is primarely not made for the home environment. It is impossible to prepare food without the expectation that it will also be eaten. You can’t sit next to your child, who is hungry and should eat, and just turns bread into breadcrumbs. There is too much internal pressure and stress for that to take place. The “sickness” of being a parent prevents you from being relaxed, however much you would like to be but aren’t. Therefore: the play picnic is good in a therapy setting. A play picnic with your child at home often results in disappointment.