As your toddler enters the ‘I’ll do it’ stage, here’s how to capitalise on that independent streak and encourage them to feed themselves.
1. Finger feeding
Your toddler will most likely start eating independently with their fingers. It may be messy at first, especially when they have not figured out how to hold the food properly, so once you notice that they are beginning to pick up this skill, make sure that the food on their tray is in very small chunks so it will be easier for them to learn to pinch properly with their fingers.
Alternatively, you can help to pass them the small pieces of food with your fingers, and make sure you hold up the food so that they could see the proper way of holding it. Do not let go until they could hold it properly with their index finger and thumb.
2. Spoon feeding
Your toddler is most probably ready to use a spoon once you notice them trying to grab the spoon from you during meals. To allow them to start practicing with a spoon, prepare a separate bowl and spoon in front of them while you still feed them (with another spoon). Best is to use a baby spoon so it is lighter for them to try with. Before you allow them to touch the food in the bowl, teach them first the proper way of holding a spoon and then let them try it. It will definitely get messy at first as a lot of trial and errors are happening on their part, but they will soon figure out how to do it properly as they observe the way you hold it and feed them.
Also, you might want to start with more dense foods that are easier to stick on the spoon before moving on to lighter foods and soups.
3. Fork feeding
Your child may be ready to start using the fork once he/she has mastered using the spoon. Start off with foods that are easier to pierce through so your child will not be frustrated when he/she is unable to get the food with the fork. Also remember to use a toddler-friendly fork that is safer and lighter in weight to ease their process of learning. This might be a little challenging for them compared to the spoon, and they may resort to eating with their fingers in the end, but that’s alright. Just remember to place the forks there again at the next meal for them to try again, until they eventually get the hang of it.
4. Drinking independently
There are a few steps which you can do to prepare your toddler to drink independently. If they are still drinking milk from bottles, allow them to hold the bottles themselves whenever they drink so they would be more used to the idea of holding a cup later on. Once they have mastered this, introduce them to a cup with a lid and a straw. The straw is necessary when they transition from bottle-drinking as they are still not used to taking big gulps of water. Slowly allow them to learn to drink out of a cup by removing the straw, and once you think they are ready, remove the lid too. As toddlers usually learn by imitating behaviours, you can drink as they are practicing with the cups so they can see the proper way to hold the cup and avoid spills.
5. Praise your child’s efforts
And this may just be the most important step when you prepare your child to take on new skills. Every step is a huge leap for your toddler, so remember to praise them when they manage to do something right, no matter how small the achievement may be. This gives them positive reinforcement and will encourage them to keep trying even when they fail the first few times. Of course the dining table may be messy in the first few rounds of trials, but remember! Your child is developing his/her motor skills and these will be the basic skills they would need later for to write, draw or play musical instruments. So don’t worry about the mess, just give them time and keep showing your support – it will be worth it.