Children Learning to Feed Themselves

Children Learning to Feed Themselves

2 February 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Most parents are thrilled when their children start showing signs of wanting to control their eating.

Children learning to feed themselves is a wonderful and highly enjoyable process – but be prepared for some mess to begin with!

Ages

Firstly, try not to get hungup on dates, ages and schedules. Your baby will start when he or she is ready.

However, as a very rough guide:

  • around the time your baby starts on solids or a little after, say perhaps around 6-9 months, you should see them starting to show signs that they want to feed themselves. This is usually evidenced by trying to take the spoon out of your hand while they’re feeding;
  • the same applies to liquids and their cup;
  • most children can’t usually manage a spoon “correctly” until around 18 months or a little after.

If your baby shows little or no interest in feeding themselves by say 9-12 months old, it is probably not significant but to put your mind at rest, get your doctor’s opinion.

Mess

This is typically unavoidable in the early days. Some of it will be just clumsiness while your baby is learning but you can be fairly sure that at some point, he or she will find it hilarious to throw their food around.

You can’t stop this and shouldn’t even try to, in the early days, so be patient!

There are though a few good tips you can try to minimise the chaos:

  • put a wipeable mat under their chair;
  • don’t try and feed them if you have decent clothes on, say just before going out – you’ll make a very attractive target;
  • use a bib;
  • don’t give them all their food in one go. They’ll assuage their hunger, to begin with, then may decide to start having ‘fun’ with any surplus. Use several smaller portions instead and once they stop eating – clear it away;
  • where possible, try to eat with your baby. They may copy your good behaviours;
  • don’t allow your baby to eat unattended once they’ve finally got the hang of things. Choking is a risk. Permit unattended eating only once they’re both older and more skilled;
  • in the earliest days, offer them finger food. It’ll be easier for them to manage and harder for them to get the distance they’ll be able to achieve when flicking with a spoon!

Variable eating

Don’t be too surprised or worried if in the earlier days, your baby seems more interested in playing with their food in their hands than in eating it.

They’re exploring and learning about touch, feeling and fine-tuning their motor skills.

It’s also very difficult to generalise about quantities and likes/dislikes. So many things are going on inside your baby’s head that it’s almost impossible to draw conclusions or make comparisons.

The only real things to watch are:

  • is your baby gaining weight in line with healthy norms? Your doctor can easily advise on that one;
  • are they healthy-looking, bright, attentive, full of energy (when not sleeping!) and seemingly happy? Food is only a part of the foundation here but if they are all of those things then they’re probably eating well enough for their needs.

The right foodstuffs

As a final and slightly off-theme message, do remember to ensure your baby develops healthy eating habits from the very earliest ages.

That means allowing them access to only healthy foodstuffs and reducing things like processed sugars etc.

Again, a children’s health professional can give further advice on that one.

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