Whether they’re brightly colored, polka-dotted, or decorated with the smiling face of a toddler’s very favorite character, many tots start their eating-solids career out eating from cheerful, kid-friendly dishware and silverware. When they move out of the high chair and over to the family dinner table, often, these plates, bowls, cheerfully un-tippable cups, and infinitely grippable silverware come with them. But when is it time for a tot to pull the full-sized fork from the stone and raise it to reign at your maybe-not-so-round table?
Two schools of thought
Like anything that has to do with parenting, there are a few ways to approach the question of grown-up tableware and cutlery. Many families choose to wait to introduce “real” dishware to the youngest members of the family until they feel pretty sure that the danger of breakage has, at least mostly, passed. Others, whose children are even more attached to their very own, personal cups, plates, bowls, and silverware, may have the kid-friendly versions stick around even longer than that, until their children decide they want grown-up dishes, or are eating big enough portion sizes that grown-up dishes are the only sensible option.
On the other hand, parents who are interested in Waldorf or Montessori school theories about education and raising children, or parents who just choose to skip the “child dishware” step sometimes choose to start their toddlers off with manageably-sized dishware from the adult set. Choosing when and if to choose to use children’s dishware is really a question of approach. Waiting generally means waiting until a child reaches the point where he probably won’t break anything (though accidents are always possible). For families who choose to make the switch earlier on, though, the fact that the dishes might break is often a part of what toddlers and children learn. It might sound counterintuitive – why invite the chance of an accident? – but there are more benefits of learning from a little breakage than it might sound like. Toddlers who see the way dishes can break, and who safely help their parents clean up the mess afterward, are learning the consequences of their actions, not in a way that involves punishment, but just because they’re seeing what happens when they slip when spilling, trip when running, or are just a little bit less careful.
Adult dishware for little hands
Many families make the switch around the age of 4 or so, although if a toddler is especially attached to his brightly-colored toddler dish set, there’s no need to rush it away. As he grows, so will his appetite, until he reaches the point where the toddler plate just doesn’t do the trick anymore, no matter how cute it is.
Switching from kid-ware to regular tableware isn’t all-or-nothing, either. Unless your toddler is setting the table (another Montessori strategy), once he has moved past the irresistible urge to throw his dishes, he probably isn’t picking his plate up off the table too often, which cuts down on the chances for breakage. Cups, which get picked up and put down as often as your toddler is thirsty, live on the edge a little more, and it may make sense to stick to cups made out of plastic or another non-breakable material a while longer, if you want to.
As he keeps graduating to new levels with food, he will eventually end up needing a more effective knife than the ones that come from most toddler sets, but unless he is very advanced when it comes to his table-literacy, there’s a good chance that that time is still a long way off. When it’s time to make the switch with silverware, some families who use heavier sets of cutlery find that getting another, inexpensive, stainless steel set can be helpful, if their toddlers have a hard time, or are eating more clumsily with the heavier, full-sized set.