Teaching a baby to eat alone is not an easy task. For parents, it requires a certain amount of letting go. For the child, it means learning to master the movement of the hand towards the mouth, adopting new movements of the tongue, lips and jaws, discovering chewing, etc. Here are some tips to help you through this months-long phase.
Integrating good coordination through imitation
As each baby evolves at his own pace, it is complicated to give a precise age at which you can start teaching your child to eat alone. The best thing to do is simply to observe him: when he starts to pick up objects, to observe them, to try to bring them to his mouth, the bases for learning to eat alone are there. However, this learning process takes several months and different stages.
At first, let your child use his fingers. This will allow him to coordinate the movement of his hand from the plate to his mouth. At the same time, you can use a spoon, so that he can visualise its use. When he starts to try to take the spoon from your hand, you can give him one while keeping one for yourself. At first, almost nothing that he has struggled to put into his spoon will reach his mouth. You will find food on the floor, on clothes, etc. Unfortunately, this is a necessary step. The more you let your child practice on his own, the quicker his movements will become clear. You can also use this mess to get him involved in cleaning up.
Discovering the tastes and textures of food
Knowing how to eat on your own is not just about mastering the movements of the spoon, fork and mouth. It’s just as important to teach your child to eat everything, to taste, to discover the different tastes and textures of food, as well as its temperature. Although it’s messy, it’s also important to have a period where the child learns with their fingers. Take care to name the foods they touch, describe their taste, give temperature information, etc. In this way, they will learn to recognise and then express what they like, dislike, crave or not.
Even if it is confusing for you, let your baby eat his food in the order he wants. The order of salty and then sweet meals is a habit that we grow up with, as a social habit, but it does not apply to babies. The important thing for them, at first, is to learn the movements and to discover the food.
Preparing the feeding area to teach baby to eat alone
To teach babies to eat on their own, there is no need to invest in sophisticated cutlery. On the contrary, some ingenious spoons make it easier for the child to learn, for example, how to keep his spoon horizontal. What is important is that the size of the cutlery is adapted to the size of the hand and mouth. Silicone cutlery is best, as it is not cold and is soft. This will be more comfortable for him.
If possible, make sure that his feet are on the floor or on a support. Feet dangling in the air change your baby’s already delicate balance, making learning to move even more difficult. If you don’t mind being stained, you can also place your child on your lap, with his back against your chest. This way, the spoon you bring to his mouth will come from the side, not the front, which is more in line with the movement he needs to learn. Remember that babies learn mainly by imitation!