how to teach your child

How to Teach Your Child to Feed Themselves

Like most development in childhood, teaching your child how to feed him/herself is a process. Bound to be messy and tedious, here’s how you can embrace this season in your child’s development and how to teach your child to independently feed him/herself.

Lead by Example

As busy moms we sometimes forget that little eyes are watching and learning from us. Sometimes this is a delightful thought, “Someday my child will know exactly how to do the dishes after watching me unload this dishwasher for the seventeen thousandth time…” and other times it’s a bit scary. Does your child watch you sit down and eat a meal. Like, sit down, pick up a fork and eat consecutive pieces of food? If you’re anything like me, lunchtime is something that takes place while standing and leaning over a Gladware container of something leftover. Especially as your child begins to feed themselves, they will need plenty of positive examples. Try hand over hand to help your child get the hang of using his spoon. Or, if your child isn’t quite there, try letting her hold a spoon while you feed her with another spoon. This will help develop an association between the fine motor skill and the sensation of eating. Perhaps initiate a family mealtime. Even if it’s not nightly, it’s a great habit to start. And, as your child gets older, the perks of family mealtime will only increase. Family meals promote positive eating habits, foster communication, and can be a fun way to connect! And don’t worry, when your child throws his/her dinner all over the floor, we know they didn’t learn it from you…

Know Your Norms

There’s plenty of opinions out there on when you should wean your child from breastmilk or formula, when to introduce solids, and when to allow your child to start using a fork. The best advice? Take into account the general developmental range for feeding behaviors and factor it into your SmartMom intuition. You know your child best, and transitions to self feeding are different for everyone. Take the pressure off of yourself to hit every developmental milestone to the day. In fact, developmental norms were created to reflect an average, meaning there are plenty of children who hit them before and just as many who hit them afterwards. Enjoy the transition to self feeding by connecting over meals with your baby and if it seems like they are ready to start using a fork, and you know that it’s about the time other babies are starting the same process, go ahead and try it!

Generally speaking, here are the norms for self feeding stages:

6 months starts eating baby food and purees
7-11 months starts self feeding with fingers
8-9 months uses spoon with assistance
8-11 months independently uses sippy cup
15-18 months capable of using spoon and explores and using fork
24 months independent in spoon feeding

For more information on developmental stages and feeding norms, visit the USDA’s Development of Infant Feeding Skills.

Don’t Cry Over…

…spilt milk, banana slices, carrots, peas, or sweet potatoes. Plenty of moms recommend using shower curtains under your child’s high chair to reduce clean up. The vinyl ones are cheap, can be cut in half and wiped off easily. The reality is, the journey to self feeding is a messy one. If you’re a clean freak, be consoled by that fact that even messy meals are so beneficial to your child. The sensory stimulation works wonders on their neurological development and motor movements. If your child is the clean freak, consider incorporating sensory stimulating activities into their play time. Sensory bins can be wonderful ways to contain the mess. Sand, water, play doh, dried beans, cotton balls, feathers, and construction paper are all wonderful options to include in a sensory bin. Be sure that your child is closely supervised for these activities, especially in the early years.

SmartMom Picks: 

Best utensil sets:

OXO Tot Training Fork & Spoon Set

Gerber Graduates Kiddy Cutlery Set

Best forks:

Gerber Graduates Kiddy Cutlery Fork Set

Best spoons:

Nuby 4 Pack of Spoons

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About Melissa Elchison

Melissa Elchison is currently pursuing her clinical fellowship as a speech and language pathologist. Previously, she studied education and was an early childhood researcher at The Ohio State University and University of Cincinnati. She enjoys barre classes, traveling with her husband, and trying new recipes.