The following list of tricks will help toddlers learn how to feed themselves. They are designed for children three years old or less and can be used as a fun activity with your kids, teaching them about the process of eating by helping them perform each trick.
“How to Teach 4 Year Old to Eat by Himself” is a helpful article that can teach parents how to teach their toddlers how to feed themselves. It includes easy tricks for teaching toddlers to eat, and also has a recipe for making your own toddler food. Read more in detail here: how to teach 4 year old to eat by himself.
Do you want your child to be able to feed themselves? Follow these simple guidelines and choose the finest utensils to help your infant or toddler self-feed!
“How can I educate my kid to feed themselves?” is one of the most often requested queries. For exhausted parents of newborns, toddlers, and even older children, self-feeding is a major thing! I was inspired to educate my own children at an early age since it meant I could once again sit back and enjoy my own dinner… mainly. As an occupational therapist, it’s also a skill I’ve worked on a lot with kids of various ages and abilities.
How to Teach Babies, Toddlers, and Children to Self-Feed
In this comprehensive guide on self-feeding, I’ll show you how to train your child to:
- feed your fingers
- use a spoon to eat
- use a fork to eat
Each is a distinct talent that is often acquired at various ages. I’m going to tell you what to watch for as your kid gets closer to learning self-feeding, as well as my OT/Mom techniques for helping them develop those abilities. Of course, I’ll also provide the finest utensils for self-feeding newborns and toddlers! So, let’s get this party started…
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When do babies start using their fingers to feed themselves?
Around the age of eight months, most newborns begin eating those small melt-able puffs directly off their tray. You’ll see that they grab the food with their whole hand in a raking motion at first. They often have a large amount in their palm at once and attempt to cram their whole hand into their mouth.
This is a rather poor strategy, yet it works.
They will learn to pick up food with numerous fingers rather than their whole hand in the coming weeks and months. Around 9 months old, they’ll perfect that action until they just utilize their index and thumb in a pincer hold (see image below) (but it could range from 7-11 months).
The pincer grip is crucial because it provides the groundwork for later fine motor abilities such as writing. Learn more about when to offer your baby finger foods and how to train them to eat them.
How to Teach Your Baby/Toddler to Self-Feed Using Their Fingers
If your infant or 1-year-old isn’t trying to feed themselves with their fingers, make sure you give them the chance to try and try again, even if they struggle a bit. That is how kids acquire knowledge! Give them dry puffs that are large enough to pick up but not so large that they choke. (I also like to use little bits of these cheese curls or pea crisps meant for newborns.)
The majority of children are eager to eat and will find out how to do it. The pincer grip is occasionally an issue for folks who want to eat but can’t figure it out.
Set aside some time at the start of their meal to offer them one piece of food at a time if they aren’t isolating their finger and thumb. Place one single puff on their plate first; if you don’t have a lot of puffs, they may be able to isolate those fingers for you. Hold it out in front of them if they don’t utilize the pincer grip since it’s simpler to take it out of your fingers than off their tray or plate.
Hold on to the food until you see them grasping it with their index finger and thumb. Spend just a few minutes “practicing” at the start of the meal, then let them complete their meal normally so they don’t get irritated. It won’t be long until they’ve perfected this new talent!
If the meal is soft, such as a banana, break it into cubes and roll the pieces in crushed dry cereal so they have something to hold.
When Will Your Toddler or Baby use a spoon to eat?
By the age of two, occupational therapists want children to be eating themselves with a spoon without help. Most children, however, are capable of learning considerably earlier if given the chance. Many toddlers are able to feed themselves with a spoon by the age of one year. Read Why You Should Let Your Kid Get Messy Eating if you’re struggling with the messiness of self-feeding.
Using a Spoon to Teach Your Toddler (or Baby) to Self-Feed
As with feed your fingersing, the most important thing you can do initially to teach your baby or toddler how to use a spoon is to give them lots of opportunities to try.
This will be nasty once again. That’s fine! The mess is actually beneficial in desensitizing kids to different textures and preventing future severe fussy eating.
This includes giving your baby their own spoon to practice bringing to their mouth as you feed them in the early days of feeding. This helps your child to connect the spoon with eating while also practicing their fine motor abilities. Encourage your youngster to place it to his or her lips occasionally while you’re feeding them.
Put your hand on top of theirs and dip the spoon into the dish you’ve been feeding them from jointly, putting just enough on the spoon for them to taste. Repeat this process a few times during the meal until they get the hang of it.
It’s time to give them their own tiny bowl while you feed them once they’ve dipped and brought the spoon to their lips multiple times. They’ll toss the bowl, but you have the option of keeping your hand on it or using a…
…Suction bowls are fantastic and will prevent children from throwing the whole bowl on the floor. The key is to simply put a little amount of food in the bowl at a time. You’re still giving them the majority of the meal at this time. Put extra food in the dish for them to feed themselves if they are doing well scooping up food and getting some of it into their mouth.
If you begin feeding them baby food at 6 months, your kid will be roughly 8- 10 months old by the time you reach this phase. If the mess becomes too distracting, and it will, gently remind them that food must be consumed. Remember that making a mess and messing about with food is all part of the process. I understand that it is difficult, but it is just temporary.
Another source of irritation is tossing their dish or food. For further information, see How to Stop Babies from Throwing Food.
Continue in this manner with two bowls until they are receiving more and more real food and less nibbles off your spoon. You may cease using your own bowl after they are feeding themselves for the most of the meal. You’ll only be assisting them with huge bites or when they tilt the spoon the incorrect way in a short time.
If you’ve been consistently teaching them to use utensils, they’ll be self-sufficient about 14-16 months.
Although, for the time being, it will be a monitored procedure. Also, don’t worry about the food that spills on their bib and chin; they’ll be sloppy eaters for a while. I hope I’m not the bearer of terrible news, but they’ll keep eating like this until about 2 – 2 1/2 a.m. On the plus side, their freedom allows you to prepare your own meals!
It’s also worth remembering that thicker meals, such as yogurt and pudding, are simpler to scoop and maintain on the spoon. Thinner textures might be irritating at first.
If your child isn’t interested or has trouble managing the spoon, assist them by placing your hand on top of theirs and walking them through the motions of scooping and putting the mouthful into their mouth (as in the pic below).
See my top spoon selections at the bottom of the page!
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When will your child use a fork to feed themselves?
After they’ve mastered spoon feeding and have a good pincer grip for self-feeding, introduce fork feeding. Again, we expect children to be able to use a fork by the age of two, but most will choose to eat with their fingers, which is great. Around 15-18 months, children are able to use a fork.
Using a Fork to Help Your Toddler Self-Feed
Start by providing a safe toddler fork on their plate or high chair tray with easy-to-pierce foods like cheese cubes or chicken nuggets. Noodles and fruit are soft, yet they are prone to falling apart.
We want to keep their irritation level low at first and offer them an opportunity to succeed, which will encourage them to keep trying. If they’re having problems putting the food onto the fork, provide more hand-over-hand assistance until they figure it out. As you go, give them as little assistance as possible.
Continue to give them a fork and, at the very least, encourage them to use it a few times a week until they reach the preschool years, when eating everything with their fingers becomes increasingly improper.
Best Spoons for Toddlers Learning to Feed Themselves
Both of my boys used these spoons and sporks. I love them because of their wide curved handle, plus the shape allows them to dip only a little and still get a spoonful. That is important in the early days, when their coordination isn’t so hot. I also love the deep bowl of the actual spoon because even when some of the food falls off, it all isn’t lost, which can be really frustrating when their trying so hard.
Toddlers Learning to Self-Feed: The Best Forks
I love these little forks because they too have a soft, wide gripped handle which makes it easier for 1 year olds to use and feed themselves with. The best part is that they are metal and will actually pierce something. But the prongs are rounded just enough so that they aren’t dangerous for little ones.
How to Get a Toddler Who Doesn’t Want to Feed Himself to Eat
If your kid is already a toddler and you missed the previous stages, don’t worry; you’ll still continue in the same manner. You’ll probably go faster through the first several stages. Many parents are hesitant to give their kid a spoon when they are young or are concerned about the mess it will create.
It’s crucial to follow a toddler’s lead and provide as much assistance as they need, while it’s also OK to let them struggle a bit. Patience and consistency in how frequently you offer them with a spoon go a long way!
I should also mention that some toddlers know how to feed themselves, or are capable of doing so, but refuse to do so because they are exceptionally fussy eaters. If you suspect this is the cause of your child’s failure to self-feed, read 5 Reasons Kids Refuse to Eat.
If your kid is having trouble feeding themself or refuses to attempt, be sure it’s not the possible mess that’s troubling them. Show them that you have a napkin nearby and offer them their own if you feel they don’t enjoy getting messy. If they become a bit filthy and it bothers them, clean it up right away. Learn ways to assist children with sensory sensitivity.
Regardless of why they’re having trouble, the keys to improvement are consistency, patience, and practicing together.
Grab my FREE Must-Have Printable: 9 Tips to Improve Eating and we’ll send it directly to your email to keep the ideas flowing!
More on Baby and Toddler Nutrition
Red Flags in Baby and Toddler Feeding
Weaning from the Bottle
How to Teach Your Toddler or Baby to Drink from a Straw
The Ultimate Guide to Baby and Toddler Food
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The “toddler refuses to feed himself” is a common problem that many parents face. There are a few easy tricks that can be done to teach toddlers how to feed themselves.
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