Teaching your child how to self-feed is a major milestone in their developmental journey. Although it’s a messy time, it’s also an opportunity for your little one to grow their independence. Continue reading to learn some tips for teaching your child to self-feed.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Mastery of a new skill requires practice, and teaching your child how to self-feed is no different. It’s important to give your child frequent opportunities to practice eating on their own. During feeding sessions, your little one should practice eating with their hands and with utensils. If you allow them to feed themselves during every mealtime, your baby or toddler will gain more independence.
Particularly during the first few self-feedings, you should expect more food to end up on the floor than in your child’s mouth. But with time, your little one will begin to grasp the concept and become more adept at using their hands or utensils to put food in their mouth. Some parents opt to put a wipeable mat under their child’s highchair to make mealtime cleanup easier.
Encourage Hand Feeding
In general, your child needs to practice hand feeding before you introduce any type of utensil. As the term suggests, hand feeding involves your little one using their hands to move food toward their mouth. To encourage this action, place a few small pieces of food on your child’s highchair tray. Let your baby reach for it, feel it, and play with it for as long as they’re interested.
If they don’t eat the food, you may feel like it’s a waste of time, but hand feeding is how your child starts to learn about the world of food. When it comes to self-feeding, a slow introduction is key for long-term success. Once your child has mastered hand feeding, you can begin to incorporate utensils. With time, your child will learn how to balance food on a spoon or fork as they bring it to their mouth.
Another tip for teaching your child to self-feed is to eat together as a family. You can encourage independence in your growing toddler by letting them watch their family members eat. Little ones are constantly observing and picking up new skills via modeled behaviors. If your child sees you and your partner eating food with utensils, they’ll be excited to mimic the same actions.
If you feed your baby at a separate time than the rest of your family, you’re denying them the opportunity to copy your movements and mannerisms. Your child is picking up on social cues you’re not even aware of, so it’s important to include them in your family mealtimes. After careful observation, you may be surprised how much growth your child displays.
Like every developmental benchmark, it’s important to be patient and let your child take the lead. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to self-feeding. Simply introduce the concept, offer some encouragement, and allow your baby to eat on their own timeline. And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy this fun and messy milestone!