During the toddler stage, a child is bursting with energy and is eager to learn. Therefore, it is the best time to teach your toddler basic self-help skills like eating on his own.
But remember, although your toddler may be very motivated to learn, he would get distracted or frustrated easily. So, you have to keep encouraging him to keep trying. Let’s look at how you can encourage your toddler to begin eating on his own.
1. Allow him to select his favourite food: The first step towards encouraging your toddler to eat on his own is to make him develop an interest in eating. You can do this by allowing him to select from a range of food groups that you want him to eat like various fruits, vegetables or bread. You can also ask him about his favourite dish and prepare it for him once in a while. Once your toddler starts showing an interest in selecting the food he wants to eat, progress to the next level, where you should allow him to begin eating on his own.
2. Start with finger foods: The fine motor skills of toddlers are still developing, so they find it difficult to eat using a spoon. For this reason, start with food that is easy to pick up with fingers and soft enough to chew or munch on. For example, initially, place a single piece of soft fruit or vegetable on a tray and allow your child to eat it. Once she learns to pick up the single piece and eat it, increase the number of pieces on her plate. In the beginning, your toddler will use the pincer grasp to pick up her food, but with time, she will start using all her fingers. Learning to use her fingers to eat also helps in the development of fine motor skills, which will help her later in academics, like grasping a pencil to write.
3. Introduce the spoon: Once your child has mastered the art of eating with his fingers, introduce him to the spoon. While you are feeding your child with a spoon, give him a spoon to hold in his hands. Hold his hand, make him dip his spoon into the food and scoop up a small portion, and transfer it into his mouth. Do this a few times during every mealtime. After a few days, give him a small amount of food in a separate bowl, while you are still feeding him. Between each scoop that you feed him, allow him to eat from his own bowl. In the beginning, your child will not be able to transfer the food to his mouth. He may spill it and make a mess; but, keep reminding him that he should put the food in his mouth and not spill it. To prevent your child from spilling, you can give him thicker liquids or sticky foods. As your child becomes better at eating using a spoon, increase the quantity of food in his bowl. Over a period, your child will be eating on his own from his own bowl.
4. Eat next to your child: Children do what they see their parents doing. During mealtimes, eat sitting next to your child to make it possible for her to learn how to eat by imitating you. To motivate her to do better, praise her for the effort she is putting in and correct her when she gets it wrong.
Speak to your child about different kinds of food, and how eating good food will make him grow up into a big and strong individual. Give him the freedom to eat using cutlery, but be around to guide him and ensure that he doesn’t hurt himself. Remember, the secret to making your toddler pick up the habit of eating by himself is to keep his experience positive and enjoyable.