Any opportunity for your child to engage in self-care, such as eating independently, boosts their self-esteem. Independent eating helps your child to regulate food intake, providing a foundation for healthy eating habits. Practicing independent eating also helps to improve your child’s hand-eye coordination.
Hand over the spoon!
Here are 8 ways to support independence at mealtime
1. Put away distractions
Eliminating distractions helps create a calm and relaxed environment during mealtime. This helps your child to develop positive associations with food. Mealtimes are a moment for connecting while nourishing our bodies. Be present with your baby and enjoy this ritual.
2. Establish a place to eat
Much like your baby craves food, they crave order. Order supports their natural drive to learn as patterns and routines are more easily learned and understood than inconsistencies. Establishing an area for eating in your home helps your child to understand what to expect when it’s time to eat. This can look like nursing in the same chair then later sitting down for meals in the same room of the house.
3. Allow for independence
Self spoon-feeding helps develop vital oral and motor skills, like hand-eye coordination, and teaches healthy eating habits as your baby regulates bites. Giving your baby the right tools allows for their independence. When your baby is able to sit with support, you can use a low table and chair proportioned to their size. This is an opportunity for them to practice getting in and out of their chair independently. Use a place setting and utensils made with natural materials for small hands. Using utensils helps prepare your child for eating in the “real world” and shows them that we think they are capable.
The Monti Kids Dining Set includes a place setting with demarcations showing how to set the table and child-size silverware. It also comes with a second cup for an adult to role model how to drink using two hands.
4. Talk to your baby
Mealtime is an opportunity for language learning. Tell your little one about the new items in front of them – “this is a bowl” and “there’s a banana in your bowl.” This lets your baby to relate new words to their experience.
5. Show then collaborate
Collaborate with your baby as they practice feeding. To start, scoop the food onto their spoon. You can say, “the banana is on the spoon.” Then gently touch the spoon to your baby’s lower lip. When your baby is ready, they’ll open their mouth. Preload the spoon again then leave it at the edge of your baby’s bowl, centered in front of them. By placing it in the center of the bowl, your baby has the choice of practicing with their left or right hand.
6. Observe your baby
Observe how your baby communicates with you during mealtime. When your baby turns away from the spoon or begins to fuss, they’re letting you know they’re finished eating. Avoid forcing food into your baby’s mouth, instead wait for their consent. This shows your baby you respect their space and honor their pace of eating.
7. Try, try again
If your baby doesn’t like a new flavor, just keep trying. Babies may spit out new food at first. This is normal as they explore. The average baby needs to try a new flavor 15-20 times before they accept it. So, expect some interesting faces when introducing a new food.
8. Trust in your baby’s capabilities
Practice makes perfect! It takes a lot of coordination for your child to feed his- or herself. Allowing your child the freedom to spill and make mistakes will help them learn. Trusting in their capabilities will build their self-esteem and independence.