Although it’s normal for tots to need a bit of assistance with their food well into their second year, most are capable of getting a piece of finger food from hand to mouth around the nine-month mark, and can use cutlery (messily) by about 18 months. So what do you do if your baby refuses to feed herself?
Try some of these tactics to help your child master the art of feeding herself:
- Use two spoons at mealtimes: one for her to experiment with, and one for you to shovel the food in with
- Be a role model: eat together, and let her watch what you do. Encourage her to pick her own food up; don’t try to help her
- Load a spoon for her and leave it on her tray so she can attempt to feed herself. Sticky foods like mashed banana or porridge work well
- Give finger food snacks between meals
- Initiate playtime with messy food like cold cooked spaghetti or jelly, to get her used to the sensation of having food on her hands
- Choose child-friendly cutlery, with short, easy-grip handles. Some have angled heads to make it easier to get food from plate to mouth
- Play games where she pretends to feed a soft toy with a spoon, to help her practise scooping motions
- Try a fork instead of a spoon: some children find it easier to stab than scoop
- Have one meal a day where you don’t help at all. Choose a time when you’re not in a rush! Don’t panic if she doesn’t eat; she’ll make up for it at the next meal
- Use cutlery for non-food-related tasks, such as chopping up playdough, to get her used to handling it
- Be calm about mess. If she’s used to you sighing or snapping about spilt food, she might be reluctant to try to feed herself. A long-sleeved bib and a plastic mat under the highchair will minimise the damage.
Is there a problem?
All children develop at their own rate, and some are slower to self-feed than others. If you have concerns, you may want to speak to your health visitor, for example if:
- Your baby seems to struggle with motor skills such as picking up a toy and putting it to her mouth
- Your baby is over 10 months old and doesn’t demonstrate the pincer grip (being able to pick things up between thumb and forefinger)
- Your baby frequently gags when putting things in her mouth
- But otherwise, stay calm and take your time: self-feeding is simply another development in your little one’s life which will get better with practice.