Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Teach Your Child to Self Feed





One of the most common questions I get asked is... "How can I teach my child to feed themselves?"  I was pretty motivated to teach my own kids because that meant I could sit back and enjoy my own meal again... well, mostly.  It is also a skill I have worked on, a lot, with kids of all ages and abilities.  In this post, which is long over due, I am going to cover it all.  I will tell you how to get your kid finger feeding, using a spoon, and a fork, all of which happen at different developmental periods. Plus, I'll give you age guidelines, notice my word choice, when we are talking milestones. There is always a lot of variability as each child is unique.  Of course, I will share with you my favorite beginner utensils, too!  So, let's get started...


Finger Feeding

When?

Hopefully your child has started or will start feeding themselves those little melt-able puffs right off their tray around 8 months. Initially, you will notice that they grasp for their food with their whole hand in a raking motion. They often get a bunch in their at once and will try to shove their whole hand into their mouth. This is a fairly ineffective method, but they manage.  Slowly, they will begin to use multiple fingers to pick up more foods, which should evolve into a pincer grasp (see the top pic above or the one below) around 9 months old (but it could range from 7-11 months). This pincer grasp is important because is lays the foundation for future fine motor skills like writing.  If you want more specifics on transitioning to table foods check out my two part series here and here.



How You Can Help Them!

First of all, make sure you are giving them opportunity. Let them try and try again, it is okay to let them struggle a little. That is how they learn!  Give them things like puffs that are dry and big enough to pick up, but not so big they could choke. Most kids are motivated to eat and will figure out how to get it into their mouth.  The problem sometimes arises with the pincer grasp. If they aren't isolating their finger and thumb, set aside some time at the beginning of their meal to give them one piece of food at a time. Try placing one singular puff on their tray first, without a boat load of puffs they may isolate those fingers for you. If they don't use the pincer grasp, hold it up in front of them, like my husband is demonstrating in picture to the right. Don't let go until you see them grabbing it with their index finger and thumb.  Spend just a few minutes "practicing" at the beginning of the meal and then let them finish their meal normally so they don't get too frustrated. Likely, it won't be long before they have mastered this new skill!




Spoon Feeding

When?

We look for toddlers to be feeding themselves with a spoon, completely independently by the age of 2.  However, most kids are capable of learning much younger than that if they are given the opportunity . By one year of age they can be proficiently and messily feeding themselves.  If you struggle with the messiness of self feeding make sure you read one of my most popular posts, Why You Should Let Your Kid Get Messy Eating.

How You Can Help Them!


Giving Hand-Over-Hand Help
As with spoon feeding, the most important thing you can do initially is to let your baby or now toddler try. In the very early days of feeding your baby, this means giving them their own spoon while you feed them.  This allows baby to associate the spoon with eating and they get to work on their fine motor skills a little too.  Hopefully, your child will put it to their mouth intermittently, encourage this.  Once they start to put it to their mouth put your hand on top of their's and dip it together in the food, put just enough on the spoon so it is just a taste.  Do this a few times throughout the meal until they start to get the hang of it themselves.

Once they have this under their belt, it is time to give them their own little bowl while you are feeding them. I can already feel the panic setting in for so many of you - What, their own bowl?!?  A bowl they can throw and stick their hands in? Yes, that is what I am suggesting! The suction bowls are awesome and will help keep them from tossing the whole bowl on to the floor. The trick is to only give them a little food in the bowl at a time. At this point you are still feeding them most of the meal. If they are doing well scooping up food and at least getting some of it into their mouth, put more and more food into the bowl for them to feed themselves. If they aren't showing much interest or are having a hard time manipulating the spoon, then help them by putting your hand on top of their's and moving through all the steps of scooping and putting the bite into their mouth (see the pic above left). Once you reach this point your child is probably around 8- 9 months old, assuming you started feeding them baby food at 6 months. If the mess is becoming too distracting, which it likely will, gently remind them that food goes in their mouth. Try to remember that the mess and playing with food is all part of the process.  I know it is challenging, but it is short lived.

You will continue in this way with 2 bowls until you are giving them more and more of the actual food and less bites from your spoon.  When they are feeding themselves most of the meal you can stop using your own bowl.  In a short time you will only be occasionally helping them with a large bite or when they turn the spoon the wrong way.
Although it will continue be a supervised process for some time.  Also, they will be fairly messy eaters for a while, don't worry about the food that falls on their bib and chin.  I hope I'm not the barer of bad news, but they will eat like this until about 2 - 2 and 1/2. On the upside their independence gives you a chance to actually eat your own food or answer the phone or wash up a few dishes!


It is also helpful to keep in mind that thicker foods like yogurt and pudding will be easier to scoop and keep on the spoon.  Thinner textures may be frustrating initially.

If your child is already a toddler and you missed the steps I just described, it is okay, you are still going to proceed in much the same way.  You will likely be moving through those early steps more quickly. Many parents don't think to give their child a spoon so young or are really overwhelmed by the mess that it causes.  With a toddler it is important to follow their lead and give them as much help as they need, although it is okay to let them struggle a little here, too.  Consistency in how often you are presenting them with a spoon and patience go a long way!  

If your child is struggling to get the hang of it or is refusing to try, make sure it is not the mess that is bothering them.  If you suspect that they don't like being messy show them that you have a napkin nearby and give them their own.  If they do get a little messy and it upsets them, be quick to clean it up.  Check out my Sensory Basics and Sensory Bins post for more help on this.

Regardless of the reason they are having difficulty: consistency, patience, and practicing together are the keys to progress.

My FAVORITE Spoons



Both of my boys used these Spoons and the spork variety they sell as well. I love them because of their wide curved handle, plus the shape allows them to dip only a little and still get a spoonful. That is important in the early days, when their coordination isn't so hot.  I also love the deep bowl of the actual spoon because even when some of the food falls off, it all isn't lost, which can be really frustrating to these guys when their trying so hard.





Fork Feeding

When?

Introduce fork feeding after they mastered using the spoon and have a nice pincer grasp for self feeding.  Again, we look for kids to be capable of using a fork by age 2, although most will prefer to use their fingers, which is fine. Kids are capable of using a fork around 15-18 months.

How You Can Help Them!

Begin by placing a safe toddler fork on their plate or high chair tray with something really easy to pierce like cubes of cheese or a chicken nugget.  Noodles and fruit are soft, but
Hand-Over-Hand help with Fork
slippery, and may fall apart. In the beginning, we want to keep their frustration level down and give them a real chance at being successful.  That will motivate them to try again and again.  If they are having trouble with getting the food onto the fork, provide that hand over hand help again until they get the hang of it.  Give them as little help as possible as you move along. 


Continue to offer them a fork and at a minimum encourage them to use it a few times a week until they are in the preschool years and it becomes more inappropriate to eat everything with their fingers.








My FAVORITE Forks


I love these little forks because they too have a soft, wide gripped handle. The best part is that they are metal and will actually pierce something.  But the prongs are rounded just enough so that they aren't dangerous for little ones.  










Have more questions? Let me here them, leave a comment here or on facebook.  I write new posts a few times a month and don't want you to miss anything. Make sure to sign up for our email subscription in the top of the right sidebar!

If you are looking for more information on developmental milestones or "picky" eating for your child click on the Article Index here or in the top menu.















79 comments:

  1. My son is 19 mo. I've been offering a spoon for several months but not only he's not interested in taking it, he's not interested in eating anything that is not pureed! He eats crackers, bread and pop corn, which means there's not a problem of not being able to chew, but he refuses ti eat, even less touch fruits, vegetables or meat! I've tried a lot but even when he accepts it, he keeps it in his mouth for ages. What can I do?

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    1. Children don't eat for a variety of reasons- I have a post on that, too. See below. I am going to point you towards some more reading because I think there may be some underlying issues going on. Try to let him play with new foods and get comfortable interacting with them. Also, get him in the sand box or other sensory bins to help get him used to touching various textures.

      Are you in the states? I think it would be really helpful to get a free feeding evaluation done- I can help you figure out how to get more info on that. Also, I offer consultations, which would allow me to give you a lot more detailed answers. There is a tab in the menu, my email is YourKidsTable@gmail.com

      I hope this helps a little, I know how overwhelming it can all be!

      http://www.yourkidstable.com/2013/01/5-reasons-kids-refuse-to-eat.html
      http://www.yourkidstable.com/2012/08/getting-your-picky-eater-to-explore-new_27.html
      http://www.yourkidstable.com/2012/06/ultimate-list-of-sensory-bin-ideas.html

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  2. My son is 2 and 1/2 going on 3. He insists on me feeding him even though he is capable of doing it himself. He wants me to put the bite on the fork and in hi mouth. Then he is very picky about which bite he wants and even how I put it on the fork/spoon. I tell him that if Mommy feeds him he has to take what he gets and can't be picky. If he wants to be picky he can feed himself. He also would prefer to sit on my lap and eat off my plate if he can. I did allow this at one point, but then stopped. Now he only allowed on my lap if I have finished my meal. My daughter was similar but my oldest son never complained about eating by himself. Why does he want me to feed him and how can I encourage him to eat on his own without causing tantrums that ruin mealtimes?

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    1. This is a tough situation. I wouldn't recommend going cold turkey with feeding him, but would start to institute some rules. For instance, I would enforce him having his own bowl/spoon to start. Then I would move to having him take a few bites himself. Overall, I would encourage you to slowly ease him into it. That doesn't mean that there won't be some tantrums or discontent, but it shouldn't carry on too long. I would also consider any underlying sensory issues... does he not like being messy?

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    2. Thanks for responding. I have been trying to take small steps but it is nice to have confirmation in doing so. He does seem to be doing better. I don't think there are sensory issues--at least not with getting messy. Possibly with food texture but that may just be toddler pickiness. I will keep on as we have begun. =) Thanks.

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  3. My daughter is 9 Months old and the doctor recommended I start introducing table foods to her. However we didn't exactly ask how or what foods or anything. What is a good sample menu for one day that would be suitable for a nine month old?

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    1. Hi Sarah! I've got your covered I have two articles here that are titled, "How to Transition Your Baby to Table Food." http://www.yourkidstable.com/2012/09/how-to-transition-your-baby-or-toddler.html

      Get started there, then read part 2. There is an article index at the top if you have any trouble:) Let me know how it goes!

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  4. My son has been finger feeding himself since about 9 months after we were unable to spoon feed him since he would keep grabbing our spoon and gnaw on the wrong end (while holding his own spoon in the other hand). He just turned 1 and we have been trying to teach him how to use his own spoon to feed himself. This article has helped us very much!
    However, he doesn't get scooping/dipping and gets very frustrated because all he wants to do is hit the bowl like a drum/toy with his spoon, and then wants to gnaw on the wrong end of the spoon. I don't mind trying at every meal until he gets it, but how long can I expect this behavior? How many minutes should I let him do this before he gets too frustrated to eat at all? Thank you for your help!

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    1. Hi Amy! It sounds like you are doing a great job! He is still on the young side for learning this skill so I wouldn't worry right now. I would give him the spoon at the beginning, but keep your own bowl feeding him bites so he doesn't get to frustrated. If he allows you, in between bites, put your hand on top of his and show him how to scoop, taking it all the way to his mouth. You don't want him to get too frustrated, overall it is more important that the experience is positive. Does that help? Let me know if you have more questions!

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  5. Hello,

    Your article is wonderful.I have a 16 months old son.I started Baby Led Weaning for him when he was 7 months old but I stopped just after 2 months as was worried about the nutrition.Also he has never been a great eater.Now I feed him semi solid food since a few months but sometimes he would have it but other times I really need to distract him with music/videos (which I know is not a good habit).Now I thought of giving up the "bad" habit & let him enjoy the food by feeding himslef.He shows interest in self feeding but he started recently & was enjoying the food but very less could reach his mouth and finally he got frustrated as he stayed hungry.Moreover,as you explained in teh article to hold his hand & guide him,he doesnt want me to touch his spoon & just wants to do himself.So I am confused how can I help him & also complete the nutrition.Please guide.Looking forward to your response.

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    1. Thank you Anjali. Sometimes kids can get really independent and they don't want help- that is okay. I would let him try, but have your own bowl of food that you are feeding him from in between his bites or when he starts to get frustrated. Does that make sense?

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    2. thnx a lot for your reply.
      Normally I keep a bowl with me but unless a "tube" is on ,he notices I gave him & refuses to ake.I guess the key is to just keep doing as you suggested.
      Thanks again

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    3. Hi--I have the same problem. My 13 month old often times refuses when I try to feed her unless I distract her. I have to take her out for walks or try new things at each mealtime. This can't be sustainable! She will eat a few bites on her own, but unless I manipulate her into eating, she just won't eat enough. I "trusted" her between 9 and 12 months, and she continued to drop in the scale...from 50th pct to 25th to 15th percentile. I'm at a loss of what to do.

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  6. My son is almost 11 months old. I started him on pureed fruits and veggies then yogurt at 5.5 months. He was off and on about liking the fruits/veggies but was crazy for the yogurt. Around 9/10 months I switched to all finger food with yogurt for lunch. Recently he refuses yogurt as we'll so now we are on all finger foods. He eats a good variety of foods so I think.his nutrition is OK. Should I be concerned about him learning to eat pureed foods and eating from utensils?

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    1. That is great! I think it is fine for now. When he does have applesauce, pudding, or anything else that requires a spoon, give him the opportunity to try. He has plenty of time to learn:)

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  7. Hello! My daughter has not really started eating with a spoon and she is turning 16 months now. Is there hope that I will be able to teach her how to use a spoon and other utensils? Thank you so much

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    1. Oh my goodness, yes! You have lots of time! Start to follow the steps in the post and you will be on your way.

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  8. My son turns 1 next week. My situation is a little different. He used to have no issues with a spoon at all. Then all of a sudden, it's like he hates picking up his own spoon during meal time. I don't know what is wrong with him. He will be fed with a spoon no problem but he will not by any means self feed or even pick up a spoon. When I try to put the spoon in his hand he moves his hand away and screams and cries. I think he became spoiled because he used to never have an issue grabbing the spoon during meals. We just had lunch and it was a lot of frustration as I was making him pick up his spoon and it was extremely frustrating because he screamed and cried and threw a fit all the while I took his hand and had him grab his spoon.
    I know he's a little young but still. Why would a baby go from being content with grabbing a spoon and me helping him self feed at like 8 months to all of a sudden, months later, hating self feeding. What's wrong with him? Please help. I'm very frustrated.
    I know he's young but it's like he went backwards in self feeding which concerns me. He holds his spoon after eating but never during eating anymore.

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    1. It's hard to say what is going on here- it could be a phase. I would gently encourage, but not make too big of a deal about it for a month or so because he is really young. You could also try setting him up with everything then acting busy for a few minutes and seeing if he will get started himself. Give lots of praise for anything he does independently!

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  9. Hi! My daughter is 10 months and doing well in other development areas except for feeding. I normally feed her cut up soft food like toast or pasta or fruit, etc. but I end up putting the food in her mouth. She would pick up the food but drop them on the floor. I tried getting her hand to her mouth with the food but she resists and cries/ whines when I do and really won't open her mouth. The only food she had held and put in her mouth are banana with peel halfway down, and baby mum mums (rice husks). And most foods she only takes 3 bites and is done. I need advice! Thanks!--E

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    1. Will she eat more than 3 bites if you feed her? If not, email me so we can talk more. I would take it slow, she is really young, keep things as positive as possible. Try to get her to play/interact with the food in any way.

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    2. I am having a similar problem. My son will be one next week. He will only eat if he is spoon fed unless it is cheerios or something like it, ie. yogurt bites.He picks them up with his pincher fingers and places them directly into his mouth. No issues there. He has 8 teeth but isn't a fan of anything he has to chew more than 2 times. If I put food on his tray he either touches it then puts it down or immediately starts "finger painting" and spreading it everywhere. If I put it on the spoon and in tiny pieces, he will then eat it. He has been walking for months. He stands at the window in daycare and watches the older class run around outside. He can't join them until he can feed himself and not immediately flip the plate upside down. I am at a loss and don't know what to do. If it were just me, I would spoon feed him as long as he wants but he so wants to be with the older kids and this is the one thing stopping him. Any suggestions?

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    3. Hi Kristen, I'm wondering if he doesn't like the texture of foods. Have you introduced a little fork he could learn to use- that may help with the texture, but it will take some time to teach him. Also, babies don't need teeth to eat- they use their gums efficiently. At his age it is important to let him explore the food- I'm assuming he's around 1? Join in with him a little and try to demonstrate taking it to his mouth and also giving him a little help as needed.

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  10. Hi-this is great! My son is 11months and 1 week and just started on the pincer grasp. He has been eating puffs but doesn't pick up bananas or other finger food. He also eats the tiny star pasta (spoon fed). I think I am part of the problem as am terrified to give him anything not puréed. What are your suggestions for first foods (don't want to impose my issues in him:) and did I make it worse by delaying this-I get so nervous when he gags!!!

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    1. I actually have a two part article that addresses your question completely. Here is the link http://www.yourkidstable.com/2012/09/how-to-transition-your-baby-or-toddler.html

      Thank you:)

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  11. Hi my Name is Naomi. My daughter will be three in February. My daughter has been struggling with on going problems with eating for a year and a half now. At 6 months old my daughter started to eat food. She was a great eater. At 8 months she was drinking out of glasses by herself along with self feeding. I never had any problems. I just sat her in her chair and she would feed herself. This was very messy of course but no problem for me. We than moved to South America when she was 14 months old. The cultural and food is so much different here. My in laws insisted that she was to be feed by an adult and to eat blended foods. So not only did her diet change but the texture, foods and ways of being feed. We have gone through huge swings of time periods where she will not eat anything. Now she has been back to eating her food but with fighting about it. But I have to feed her. She is going to be three in February and I am exhausted and want my child back to self feeding. I have tried oh you take one bite and I feed you two bites and when I have done things like this she just wont eat. HELP PLEASE? I have no idea what else to do..

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    1. Sometimes this works... set up her food in front of her and act like you are really busy.... run back to the sink, look in a cupboard and see what she does (but don't let her see you noticing). If you have to run over and give her a bite, then say... "oh hold on, I need to get the phone in the other room real quick". Run out like your busy and leave the spoon and bowl there. She may get started on her own. Try this a couple of times before giving up. Get back in touch if you need more help!

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  12. Hi. My twins are 11 months actual, 9.5 adjusted. My little girl is struggling to self feed finger foods. We've been working on finger foods for about 1.5 months now. We've slowly introduced puffs, teething crackers, carrots, sweet potato, pears, banana, peaches and kix. Since we're getting close to one year, I'm beginning to worry a little. She will try to pick up a puff or yogurt melt, but won't attempt to put it to her mouth like her brother who's doing fairly well. She will drop it or just push her puffs around her tray. She is resistant to hand over hand assistance. I have started focusing more on teething crackers and having her bring her spoon to her mouth with her puréed foods. Any other suggestions? She has physical therapy and has always displayed and continues to display extension patterning, but has developed good bilateral, midline play skills. I would says she is behind with fine motor skills compared to her brother. I'm not sure if that's all we're seeing here? I will also mention she is a little behind in her munch as compared to her brother, but that has definitely improved. I think that's all. Thanks for your help. I'm glad I just discovered your blog! I'm also an OT, but have always worked with geriatrics...wishing I had a little more peds experience now!

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    1. Hi Becky, so nice to hear from a fellow OT! I would keep working at the hand over hand assistance, even if you can it in a moment here and there. You could also try putting something sticky on her hands like honey or syrup, then all those little foods will stick to her hands. The first step is just get her to take the food to her mouth, then I'd work more on the pincer grasp. Of course, lots of fine motor play outside of meals is great, too! Keep me posted!

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    2. Thanks Alisha for your response. I will definitely keep working on the hand over hand and really like the idea of putting something sticky on her hand. She's a tough cookie, because she can become resistive with hand over hand with meals and even games like patty cake. I will definitely keep you posted. I've been feeling stressed because our pediatrician wanted her off formula at 1 year, but I don' see how we can do this if O is not even eating finger foods independently. Ughhhh...the stresses of being a momma. Thanks again!!

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  13. Sorry, the twins are actually 8.5 months adjusted, 29 weekers....mommy brain:)

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    1. Hi, I am in a similar situation. My twins are about to turn 1 actual, 10 months adjusted (32 weekers). A few weeks ago we tried some finger foods for them and they choked, so we are actually nervous to let them practice with anything that they can even remotely choke on. I am teaching my son to hold his spoon when eating pureed food and does ok with help. My daughter doesnt want to hold the spoon. I let her dip her hand into the bowl but she doesnt bring it to her mouth. I know they need more practice and we'll keep working on that but should I be worried?

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    2. You are right to be concerned and I encourage you to follow your instincts, BUT there is a window of time when babies learn to chew and it can be difficult after that. I think it is good to keep trying, but in the right way. Have you seen my post on transitioning your baby to table foods. There are 2 parts and you can find them in the sidebar or in the menu bar at the top under article index. It is very detailed and I think will answer all of your questions. Let me know if you have more questions!

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  14. Hi Alisha...I wanted to let you know O is now feeding herself kix, Cheerios, puffs, yogurt melts, soft noodles and small pieces of pancake. She has trouble with the wetter foods like fruits and most vegetables. It was funny...a few days after my post she started...I guess I just needed some patience. Do you normally recommend eating solids first and then bottle feeding? We do bottle feeding first, especially she only eats about 24 oz max from the bottle, but I've noticed she doesn't seem very interested in self feeding more than a handful or so of whatever we're giving her. I'm assuming that's because she's just eaten a full bottle. When she was eating her baby food, she would eat about 2 oz after a 6-8 oz bottle. Also, she just learned how to sip from a straw!! I took your recommendation and bought the take and toss cups and they worked well with her. She gets very excited using the straw and squealed with excitement when she took her first sip. She does still let a lot of the water just run out of her mouth. We still have about another month with formula. Should I try and put some formula in the cup to try and wean her from the bottle, now that she's figured out the straw. We've tried numerous sippys prior to the straw with both kiddos and haven't been successful. I guess I don't want to screw this up now that's figured it out and is interested in the straw. Thanks for your help!!

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    1. Yes, if they are a year old now, feed them first and start to take away one bottle at a time, replacing it with milk during their meal... once they are on milk. You can experiment with the formula in a cup, but waiting is fine, too. It will be here before you know it. Make sure you give her at least water with meals.
      You could also try a no spill straw cup now that she gets it, they are much harder to drink out, but her mouth won't get flooded so easily. Happy New Year!

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  15. Hi Alisha! My 17-month old is a great eater, and has been eating a wide variety of finger foods for quite awhile now. I haven't really pushed the spoon, but know that we need to get started. I've made a couple of attempts to have him hold the spoon, and then direct his motion as you describe in the post. However, when I let him try it himself, he holds the spoon with one hand and then uses other hand to eat the food. He'll even stick his hand in a bowl of cottage cheese and attempt to eat that with his hand. How should we get started with this transition? Should he be attempting to eat all food with a spoon (including things that adults would eat with their hands, like apple cubes or sandwich pieces), or should we just work on this with food that adults would use utensils for? Thank you!

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  16. Hello! Only use utensils for foods that make sense, don't worry about the others. Keep trying the hand over hand assistance, only putting a little in his bowl. At this point repetition and consistency are the name of the game. It sounds like he enjoys eating, he'll be there before you know it.

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  17. Hi , I have a big problem as my 4 years old eats anything but she will never ever eat by herself. I have try so many things but she does not want to learn, any technic ??? Would be very much appreciated.

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    1. At her age, it is a little different, it is likely that she is able to actually feed herself. Is there a time she is someone else's care? Maybe playing at a friend's house where you could not be there and find out how she does? Also try setting up her food and then acting like you are too busy to feed her for a few minutes- see how she does. A lot of kids will get sick of waiting and get to it.

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  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  19. Hi, flicking through I see you are an OT....please can you help a fellow OT?! My 18 moth old is fine eating finger foods and will take food off a spoon but only if I do it for him. He refuses to touch the spoon, shakes his head and pushes it away if I encourage him to have a go himself. (He only occasionally feeds himself a yoghurt). If I load a spoon and put it on the highchair and leave the room for a minute, he will reluctantly put the spoon in his mouth but he won't scoop food - I have to reload the spoon and leave the room again. Unfortunately on a busy morning getting ready for work I just don't have time to do this, and am also concerned he doesn't eat as much this way. Any ideas how to crack this in a way I can be consistent?

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    1. First, take a look at the spoons you are using, are they too hard or awkward to use- see the ones I suggested in the post for ideas. Also, try to really work on it when you have the time until he is better at it in the morning. I wish I had a trick for you, but without being able to see him the best advice I can give is practice! Great to hear from another OT:)

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  20. Hi, I am hoping you can help me! My son has just turned 2, he’s a very laid back character and a slow learner! He fingers feeds perfectly well but he hates using his spoon/fork. He can do it (although messily) but recently he has refused to eat unless I feed him. I’ve tried eating myself and looking busy so he thinks I don’t have time to feed him but its got to the point where if I don’t feed him he’ll cry and scream until I give in. I don’t want him to go hungry but at the same time, I can’t help thinking he’s just testing me… any suggestions? He’ll normally do two spoon fulls and then completely give up! HELP!

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    1. I know this is such a frustrating place to be in. I would try a new spoon and try to up the interest factor. It may help, may not? This is probably just a phase and I would take the middle road. Help to avoid a major battle, but continually try to encourage and keep it positive.

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  21. Hi, great site thank you..I'm writng from Istanbul, Turkey. I know I have been too late to encourage her to use spoon & fork :( She is 2 years old and we have been trying last 2 weeks with few success..She will just try once the first time I give the spoon to her and then gets uninterested..Then we hold it together like your hand on hand method a few times and it goes okey. But that's it. The minute I let her be she goes back to using her fingers. That is if she is interested with her food..That's another thing - she will only eat mashed vegetables and meatballs..She likes her food to be solid, which leaves out all the cooked mushy, fibrous, saucy kinds of foods out..She takes out the hard skins like tomatoes or oranges and gags with green pea or bell peppers or omelettes. I want her to enjoy her meals feeding herself, and for myself not to get anxious before each meal time..How can I get her to try feeding herself and how can we come over this sensual dislike ? Thank you!

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  22. Adding to my above post :
    When she refuses to eat her meal do I go and prepare a safe option which I know she will eat and thus eats often? :(

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    1. I would encourage the spoon, but if it something that isn't messy don't worry too much about it right now. Kids like to finger feed and it is okay at her age, unless it is something messy like yogurt. The sensory stuff is a whole different issue. See my Basics to Improve Eating at the tab on the top of the page, start trying to implement those habits and read the posts listed at the end. They are all good starting points and will give you some direction. As you will see in the tab, always make sure you give her one thing she likes at each meal. If she doesn't eat, tell her she won't get to eat until her next meal. She should at least eat her preferred food. Don't prepare her another meal, that is a slippery slope. If you need more help or suspect underlying issues I am available for consult via phone or skype- no pressure! Let me know how it goes!

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  23. Hi, I've been reading through some of your posts about feeding your toddler and I'm hoping you can help. My son is 18 months old. We were a little late starting solids, at 6 1\2 months, but in the beginning he did great. Later he also really wanted to feed himself with his spoon, at about 13 months old. He fed himself with a spoon for about 1 month and since then he has refused to do it himself. I can hand him small pieces of food and he'll put it in his mouth by hand; however if I put them on his tray he will just throw them off. It's kind of like he simply doesn't want his tray dirty. It doesn't seem to matter what it is, he has never liked anything to be left on his tray. So I'm not sure how to get him to proceed through the stages you've mentioned. Do you have any advice?

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    1. I would try giving him a suction plate with just a few pieces on it. Then slowly build up on putting more pieces on. Try to give him short directions, "food stays on the tray/plate", and be ready to grab his hand and redirect the food back. There may be some tears- don't let it get excessive, but don't let him get off too easy either. It will take time, but try to reinforce the rule. They can be pretty stubborn at this age.

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  24. Huh. My 13 month twins are pretty good with a fork, but much less so with spoons. About the mess, though, let's be real: It's not about allowing them to get food on their bib and their chin. The food gets on those places, and it gets smeared in their hair and eyebrows, up their nose, in their eyes, and on their forearms. And halfway through they will rip off their bibs and get it on their clothes as well. All the food they drop on the floor has led to a mouse taking up permanent residence in the stove so it can sneak out every night looking for crumbs (I sweep, but I can't mop every day). The suction cup bowls are regarded as a challenge and must be pulled free before any eating commences, and since they release suddenly, the food is flung toward the ceiling with great force.

    And when you're reading to start cleaning up, you face the dilemma of where to start first: wipe off the hands? But as soon as you release a hand it will be used to rub the dirty tray or dirty face. Wipe the face first? Then immediately a dirty hand will smear more food there. Remove the tray first? Then the hands can reach the pants and feet that were completely food-free throughout the meal.

    Getting messy is for dinner (right before baths) ONLY.

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    1. Obviously, every parent needs to decide what works for them and with twins you certainly have a greater challenge. As an OT that specializes in this area and a mom that has taught two of her own kids this is what has worked for me and a variety of other parents.

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  25. What are the best foods to help teach them use the fork?

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    1. Foods that you cube like soft meats (ham, chicken, meatball), cheeses, ripe pear, and banana all work well.

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  26. My little boy is 2 and a half and doesnt feed himself. At the moment he is being tested for autism and also has a problem with his sight in one eye. We have encouraged him to hold a spoon or fork whilst being fed which is a huge improvement. He does let us put food on the fork and with our hand over his, he will put it in his mouth. Thats has far as it goes at the moment. My little boy also is struggling with speech and commumication so he doesnt really understand much of what we are telling him. He has a 7month old brother and is starting to see him put the spoon in his own mouth etc i just dont know what the next step is without him getting too upset and just refusing to eat anything. He is also a very fussy eater. Thanks

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    1. It sounds like you are doing great. Every child is different and you need to meet him where he is. Keep helping him and try to pull back on how much assistance you give him to make progress. This may take time.

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  27. My son will be 2 in May. He does really well with finger feeding, but when I give him utensils of any kind, he just picks them up and throws them on the floor. It doesn't matter if they have food on them or not. He is just totally uninterested in feeding himself. If I hold his hand and try to show him how it goes, he gets frustrated and won't eat the rest of his meal. How can I encourage him to try feeding himself?

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    1. I wouldn't worry too much, but keep trying especially in different environments and with different people. This behavior may just be habitual. Also, calmly but sternly tell him no and try to grab them before he throws. Also, when you introduce it, be very silly, sing a song, etc.- make it a little fun for him.

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  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  29. My daughter is 8.5 months old and she will not feed herself. She has an excellent pincer grasp and can pick up a Cheerio like nobody's business but she won't actually eat any food. We've been trying for a few months now. She eats puréed food I spoon feed her but nothing else. Should I be concerned yet or just keep trying?

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  30. Will she let you feed her table foods? If so, start there, slowly encouraging her to feed herself. If she isn't willing to accept any table foods and won't in the next couple of months I would look into an early intervention home evaluation. It may be nothing, but if it is something it could be overcome much more easily now. Trust your instincts. Let me know if you need more help. I have post on early intervention under the article index in the menu bar at the top.

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  31. Hi. Great article. Just read it because I have been having problems getting my 3 year old son to feed himself. He has a 1 year old baby sister and wants to be fed like her... he really didn't get off feeding himself so well. He knows how to do it, he just wants us or his babysitter to feed him. We've been trying to encourage him to feed himself, singing silly songs when he does so but somehow the situation has become a bit stressful when he doesn't do so well and he ends up crying and not wanting to even try.

    We have backtracked to try a slow, easy approach. He hates getting dirty and I clean him up fast in order to avoid a meltdown. Also, help him when he spoons his yogurt by placing a napkin underneath in order to avoid it dripping on his shirt.

    He likes to eat while playing with toys on the table or listening to a story, we've always allowed it but limit the number of toys to just a bit and take advantage of playing with him while eating in order to make mealtime a funtime also, I have no problem with toys (small) on the table. We are quite relaxed with our mealtimes, but I see that he might complain about feeding himself because that means he can't be playing with the toys. So I try to play around with the superhero figures while he spoons or forks.

    Any other tips? I will try the "too busy right not to pay attention to you" tip I've read, as well as continue encouraging and try to keep pressure off.

    With his younger sister, I will also try and implement the two bowl approach, and let my older son see that, yes, the little one is also learning to feed herself. And, let her get messy. I think that will be the main change. :)
    thanks for your article.

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    1. Hi Johanna, I think you already have some great strategies in mind- I can't say I agree with the toys at the table, mainly because I don't want kids to be distracted as they aren't actively engaged in eating and learning to eat. Of course, this is totally your choice, but I wanted to mention that. I would also agree not to turn it into a power struggle and to give him his own napkin. Encourage him to wipe up his own mess, it will give him some control and responsibility.

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  32. My one and a half year old doesn't feed herself. She has the pincer grasp but doesn't put anything in her mouth herself. Even when sheais hungry she will sit n wait for me to feed her. Please advice.

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    1. Look through some of the comments above for some suggestions- a lot of others have asked similar questions. It is hard to say why she is doing that. Sometime kids are just in a habit, sometimes they haven't made the connection and need help, and sometimes they don't want to touch the food. In any case take it easy and keep providing assistance along with trying some of the other strategies above.

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  33. Hello,
    This my first time posting ever and I hope you will help me out. My son is 22 months. Up until recently he was under the care of grandma. Now he is with me. He was an ok eater with grandma and on some days he is ok with me and other days he give me a very fought time. Overall he is a picky eater but there are some issues I needed helpe with. 1. He doesn't have a good relationship with food. We try to keep feedings calm but his first reaction to any food is dodging it and then eventually eating. 2. He needs to be distracted while eating otherwise he would just play with his food and not eat. 3. He doesn't stay put in a highchair instead he sits on the sofa. 4. Whatever food I make for him, he usually eats 3-4 bites...hardly ever eats the whole thing. I am sorry for all the questions but I'm quite desperate now. Not sure what to try
    Your help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance

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    1. First, I know you mentioned you were in canada, in a private message, and that it will take a while to get services, but I would encourage you to start the process. If you haven't already I would start with the eating basics tab in the menu bar. Don't let the strategies overwhelm you but start to implement these things in your home- take baby steps. Try to keep meals as positive as possible and eat with him, it is important for you to eat together. Maybe you can get him to eat at a coffee table or a small table in the living room- again try everything in small steps. See the articles at the end of eating basics also for more help. If you need more help, I am available for consultations, where we can discuss more specifics. There is no pressure at all, and I think reading through the other articles will give you a really good starting point.

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  34. Hi I came across this post while reading some of your meal ideas for toddlers. I have an 11 month old son and I try to get him to spoon fed and he will gladly accept the spoon to hold but once I grab his hand to help guide him in scooping the food and putting it in his mouth he gets very mad. My baby doesn't want my help in the least so how do I help a very independent boy learn to use his spoon if he doesn't want my assistance

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    1. Yes, it is very common for babies to do this, that is okay. You can try here and there but don't get into a power struggle. I would focus more on giving him a little of his own and his own spoon the way I described above. He is so young, he has plenty of time to figure it out.

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    2. Thanks for your response. I will try to calm down since he's not behind in his progress with self feeding. I'm a first time mommy so I'm constantly overly concerned with his development. Thanks for easing my mind

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  35. Hi Alisha! Great site!
    I am so sorry to bother you with yet another question but here in the Netherlands it is difficult to turn to somebody for questions… I have read ALL of the above comments and haven't found my answer so I post the question just in case you are still around.
    My baby is almost 14 months corrected age (he was born 2 months premature) I have followed his corrected age regarding feeding, so we started solids at 6mo corrected, and so on… but I failed to introduce finger foods at the proper age because we were travelling. And now that we are settled again I have been trying for a while, leaving pieces of finger foods on his tray and acting like I'm busy, taking the pieces myself and eating them to show him, etc but none of this seems to get to him. He just plays around with the food for like 1 minute or 2, crush it in his fist with a disgusted face, throwing some on the floor and then he goes on to ignore the pieces of food altogether and sits contentedly waiting for me to come with his puree and the spoon, and feed him.

    I don't know what to try anymore! Please help?
    I'm really worried that I have missed the window of opportunity for finger foods! :( Is he too old? Should I move on straight to the spoon?
    Thanks!

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    1. It is no problem to ask, that is why I created Your Kid's Table. Thanks for reading through, there are a lot of repeats! First, let me say it is never too late and that if you haven't come across them yet I have two posts about transitioning to table foods which you can find in the side bar under popular posts or the article index in the menu bar at the top. You will find a lot more info there. It is true that there is a window when kids learn and are receptive so you may have a bit more work ahead of you now. Keep up with the pureed foods because he needs to eat, but keep trying the table foods ideally at each meal. Start by following the order I describe in the post I mentioned. There is no pressure at all, but I do offer consults and have had many with parents overseas. Let me know if you need anything else!

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  36. I put the fork in my sons hand, he is 18 months, and pierce the food holding his hand with the fork. Then he eats it and I say yay and clap. Since I have been doing this he has learned that its great to eat with his fork! If only I could stop him from trying to feed the dog... haha!

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  37. That's great! Thanks for sharing!

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  38. Hi Alisha,
    How do we get over the anxiety of having the kids choke as they learn to eat finger foods? Our twins are about to turn 1 (10 months adjusted - 32 weekers). A few weeks ago we tried giving them some puffs and they successfully choked. Since then my husband in particular is very nervous about anything other than pureed baby food. I think they need to start learning to feed themselves but how do we ensure that they do it safely, without choking? Thanks!

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    1. A couple of things... first, did they actually choke or just gag? Gagging is normal to some extent although can be quite scary. Puffs dissolve with saliva and have an extremely low choking risk if any at all. If it makes you feel better break them up and place them on the sides. I would also check out my article on transitioning to table foods, you can find it in the side bar or menu bar in the article index. Without knowing more specifics I would recommend continuing to move forward and keep trying.

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  39. My son is 27 months old..he is actually behind in all development but his eating is the worst. He holds food in his checks and then tries to just swallow it. He does fantastic with noodles or soft moist foods ex shredded rotisserie chicken or vegetable soups. But he only will feed himself cheese doodles even still takes a bite drops what's left and gets a new one. He refuses to eat if I try n make him feed himself so ice tried I spoon two times n help him do one but still no luck. He only weighs 23 pounds and I'm very concerned. Everything else he likes to do himself at his pace so I'm trying the feed yourself method to see if he will eat more but I'm having no luck

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    1. If he is behind, he is on his curve. Make sure you read my articles on Transitioning to Table Foods and Mega List of Table Foods, which you can find in the side bar or article index in the menu bar. They will be helpful. Are you in the states? Are you hooked into early intervention? I would highly recommend this if you aren't. It sounds like you could really use some more specific help. I have an article on this process as well, Help for Infant and Toddlers. In the meantime, demonstrate how to chew, put pieces right on his gums, and give him teething rings to practice chewing on. Please let me know if you need more help!

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