Soon after your child begins sitting in a high chair, she’ll probably want to try feeding herself. At first, she’ll use her hands to pick up food, getting some in her hair, on her clothes, and on the floor.
Eventually, she’ll become a bit neater and start eating with utensils, although she’ll still use her hands sometimes.
Some parents are so bothered by messy eating that they try to stop their child from feeding herself. They think that meals will be faster and more efficient if they do the feeding, and they’re probably right. Yet there are other considerations. Your child can become so frustrated when she isn’t allowed to touch her food or feed herself that she might push away what you offer and even refuse to eat. All children at some point have a desire to feed themselves, and they’re usually more cooperative at the table when their parents let them try.
When your child is ready to start feeding herself, you can minimize messiness by putting only a small amount of food on the tray (although some tolerant parents let their child plunge into a whole bowlful). When your child is ten to fourteen months old, you may see signs that she’s ready to try a utensil. She might reach for the spoon you’re using, or imitate your actions as you eat your meals or feed her.
Her first utensil should be a spoon, since it’s safer to use than a fork. You can continue to feed her with your spoon while letting her dip her own spoon into the bowls of food. Between fourteen and eighteen months, she may be ready to use a child-sized fork, as long as you watch to see she doesn’t harm herself.
Don’t be concerned about the way your child holds her utensils; if she seems comfortable and is able to get some food into her mouth, there’s no need to worry. If she seems uncomfortable, you can show her how to hold a spoon or fork correctly, but don’t get into a struggle if she refuses to follow your example. Eventually she’ll learn by imitating you.
If she doesn’t want to use a utensil even though she’s old enough and prefers eating with her hands, try to accept the situation. She may be more successful eating that way or may just prefer to touch her food directly. Since eating should be a relaxed and enjoyable experience, it’s not wise to try forcing your young child to use a spoon and fork. Just have utensils available so she can try them out when she’s ready. Between the ages of two and three, she’ll be using utensils much of the time.