He’s well established on solids, but there are still plenty of mealtime skills for your child to master. So what are the key milestones, and how can you encourage him to meet them?
Your baby can share in the same meals as the rest of the family as soon as he can chew comfortably. Some manage this by nine months, but 12 months is quite common. You’ll still need to chop up food into sizes he can manage, and avoid adding salt, which is bad for his immature kidneys, and sugar, which encourages a sweet tooth, to the meals that he’ll be sharing.
You may like to give your baby a spoon so he can ‘have a go’ himself as soon as he starts weaning, but to get food in his mouth successfully with it he needs to refine his hand eye co-ordination. Expect real progress from 12 to 18 months.
Dental experts recommend that your child swaps bottles for cups at around 12 months, to avoid damage to his growing teeth. It may take longer to wean him off the comfort of his bedtime bottle, but aim for all daytime drinks to be served in a cup by 12 to 18 months, when he’ll have developed the necessary hand-eye co-ordination.
This requires co-ordination in both hands, which is likely to occur from 18 to 24 months.
Using a knife and fork requires sophisticated manual dexterity, likely to occur from 24 months. You can give him a blunt toddler knife from around two years, but don’t expect him to be able to cut his own food until nearer four: to begin with his knife will simply be used for pushing small pieces that you have cut for him onto his fork.
Your child will need to be confident with an open cup before he starts pre-school. If he hasn’t been reaching for your glass already, introduce an open cup from 24 months, when he can understand that he needs to control the liquid inside. To avoid spills, only put a small amount of drink in the cup at a time, and keep it out of reach of wayward elbows.
Before you pack away the high chair, your baby needs to have developed his gross motor skills sufficiently to be able to climb confidently on and off a chair – and stay on it! Expect this from 24 months.
Most children abandon bibs as their hand-eye co-ordination becomes more sophisticated, sometime around their third birthday. But if you’ve got a messy eater, you might still be tucking a napkin into his collar when he’s eating tomato sauce, even once he’s started school.
Once he’s at nursery or pre-school, your child will be encouraged to help himself to snacks and drinks from communal bowls and jugs in the middle of the table. Encourage this at home by letting him tip cereal into his bowl, or pour a drink from a carton of juice – with supervision, of course!All children are different, and there’s no such thing as an ‘average’ child. Your little one will reach these milestones when he’s ready; he may seem to get ‘stuck’ at one stage for ages then suddenly race ahead, or miss out some stages altogether, for example going straight from bottles to open cups. But if you have any concerns about his development, discuss them with your health visitor.
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