When should a child use silverware?

Your toddler’s appetite for independence is growing, and as they grow, they are becoming more and more eager and able to tackle mealtime on their own.

When Baby first started solids, they may have relied on you to feed them every bite, opening wide for spoonfuls of mashed bananas and peas. However, around their first birthday, they probably started digging into the food on their tray with their fingers. Not perfect table manners, but perfectly age appropriate progress.

By 13 to 15 months, you may be able to start offering utensils with meals, so if you haven’t already, now is the time to start. This is especially true if they are getting interested in silverware, but don’t expect magic right off the bat. Just like with all milestones, there’s a broad range of when toddlers can truly master self-feeding. Most children become more handy with silverware between 18 and 24 months, but some prefer to use their hands up until age 3 – and sometimes even beyond.

Transitioning to silverware can be messy, but it’s generally a fun adventure. Here are some tips to help Baby satisfy their hunger for self-feeding.

Easing the Transition

  • Choose the right silverware: Adult silverware often won’t cut it for toddlers – it’s just too big. Many parents opt for plastic utensils with rubber handles, which make grasping easier. If you decide to go with metal, look for forks with blunt, rounded edges that won’t hurt Baby’s sensitive teeth and gums, even if they get a little bit too enthusiastic when trying out their new toys.
  • Start with simple foods: In the beginning, stick with easy-to-eat foods that you know Baby enjoys, when it’s time to break out the utensils. Food like yogurt, which is thicker and stays together better than many other toddler-staples, which makes it simple to scoop, is more likely to stay on their spoon than, say, soup, or peas. If you make sure to include at least one favorite food with each meal, there’s a good chance that Baby will be more eager to make their silverware work for them.
  • Lead by example: Toddlers learn by mimicking adults, so when the two of you share a mealtime, you have the chance to show Baby how you use your silverware to eat your food. Deliberately scoop or pierce the food on your plate, talking about what you’re doing as you go, then slowly bring the food to your mouth. You may even choose to guide Baby by placing your hand over theirs to show them the proper movement needed to get the food on the silverware, then into their mouth. Eating with utensils is an exercise in fine motor skills, and as these skills continue to develop, the task will become more natural for them. Toddlers who mostly self-feed, and get a lot of their nourishment from finger food, might find a demonstration or three especially helpful when they’re starting out.
  • Be patient (and realistic): While it would sure be nice if Baby did, the fact is that they isn’t going to start twirling their spaghetti on their fork overnight.  More than likely, Baby will remain a messy eater until age 2 or 3, and that’s all part of the learning experience. Even once they start to get the hang of utensil use, new foods might still make for a messy night for a while, as they figure out their approach. Remain consistent in offering silverware with each meal, and soon enough, Baby will become a silverware-savvy tot.

  • “Self-Feeding.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
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