How To Teach Young Children To Eat Independently

eatingLearning how to eat by themselves is a purposeful and essential skill. Most often we do not allow young children to feed themselves with the premise that it will get too messy or that they cannot do it themselves.

Montessori will say otherwise and the following are small tips to do at home to get your child to independently feed.

PREPARATION OF ENVIRONMENT:

  1. Have a mess rug under the child’s highchair or small table and chair, depending on her regular eating area.
  2. Have a seat that the child is comfortable with and if possible have their feet touching the ground or base to give them the feeling of stability/confidence.
  3. Have child sized spoon and fork. No need for plastic ones.
  4. Involve the child in family meals and allow them to observe how adults eat with the utensils. Children learn a lot through observation.
  5. If using a high chair you can fold back the table for the children and push them in the table to be involved and be part of the family meal times. They may have just a piece of bread or fruit to chew on when the rest of the family has their dinner.

WHAT TO DO:

  1. Start early, when your child has showed interest in taking solids and has the fine motor skills to grasp things( like a drumstick have control of their movement) then during meal times you can introduce to them a spoon. Use a small soft spoon in the beginning while you have one as you feed them at the same time. The child may attempt to put the spoon on their mouths, upside down or the wrong way round at first. You may correct them but not all the time that the activity becomes irritating for both. Try to keep the experience positive.
  2. Expect that even though you have given them the utensils a child may want to eat with their hands. Allow this as this can be precursor of them wanting to feed themselves independently. One can feed the child enough food and if there is food left you can allow the child to feed themselves with their hands or utensils.
  3. As the child is already used to using a spoon next stage later on after a few practices and it may be several days, scoop the food for the child with their own spoon. Thy may take it themselves and try to feed themselves again with a bit of trial and error and mess. You can put a mess rug that you can easily wash under their chair during meal times. If you can serve a meal that sticks to the spoon- won’t easily spill- or something that you can poke with a fork.
  4. Allow the child to practice feeding themselves with biscuits and finger foods if eating alongside them. This also gives the child the opportunity to observe the adults how people eat at a table.
  5. Have everything for the meal prepared so that you do not have to leave your child alone and the mealtime will smooth.
  6. A sippy cup need not be used but a small glass( shot glass) as it is the appropriate size for them to drink form. Like eating, it will take some time and a lot of wet clothes before they perfect it. There is no need to use a plastic or rubber bib to avoid the mess. The mess on their clothes is part of the learning process. If they don’t tip the water properly in their mouths then they get wet. There is a consequence to their action as a reinforcement to their learning.
  7. Give them finger foods as often as you can so they will feel the independence of being able to feed themselves. You will then find that they will try to feed themselves all the time once they have learned that they can do it.

Hope these few steps and guidelines will help your child learn at an early age how to eat independently. Patience is a key and letting go of the mess that happens.

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