Thursday, August 25, 2011

Self Feeding


Why should I let my child feed themselves?

Unless you planning to feed your child on his/her 1st date you will have to teach them sometime. And the truth is the sooner (as long as they are developmentally ready) the better. Eating is something that everyone does everyday, usually multiple times a day. It uses all the senses (sight, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling). If you do this for them you are decreasing a huge amount of their self-esteem as an independent capable person and taking away a HUGE amount of sensory experiences. 

Self-feeding gives a child 3+ times a day to work on: sensory integration, bilateral hand use, crossing midline, fine motor skills, visual motor skills. 


But they get so messy/dirty!

Well that is why dogs, bibs, washing machines, bath tubs and towels were created. :)
But really that is part of the sensory experience and growth. Getting yogurt on your hands and face is a good thing. It teaches your child it is ok to get a little dirty or make a few mistakes. It's ok to have unrequested sensory experiences. Life will go on.  And when you are finished eating you will get clean.

I have done quite a few evaluations were the parents complain that the child hates to get messy/dirty and won't eat messy textures. So I do a little test. 

I give the child a cup of pudding, yogurt, applesauce and a spoon. I encourage the child to eat (maybe even with hand-over-hand) and when they inevitably get some of the food on themselves, I don't look at the child for their reaction, I look at the parent. 

And guess what I see/hear 99% of the time....Looks of horror, faces wrinkled up in disgust at the food smeared or often even the words, "YUCKY! You are so dirty!". Then they races through their bag looking for a wipe.

Hmm...I wonder where their child learned it is bad to get messy when eating.

The hard thing is most people don't realize that the simple things they do while feeding their baby effects their future self-feeding skills. As soon as you start feeding your child (maybe rice cereal @ 6 months), remember its ok if they get messy. Put a bib on them and feed them the entire jar/bowl BEFORE wiping their face/fingers. Smile, laugh and talk to them about what your are doing WHILE you are feeding them. If they grab for the spoon, please don't push their hands away (even if they are only 6-7 months). Let their fingers wrap around the spoon as you guide it to their mouth. When you are almost finished leave a bit of food on their tray and the spoon let them play with it. They may chew on the spoon, or rub their fingers in the food and then suck on it, or they may even just rub it in their hair. But they are LEARNING.

When they are older (6-9months) and you are introducing finger feeding (with puffs or over cooked soft peas), offer the food with a utensil every time they are in the high chair so the can associate feeding with "tool use" and they can "practice". (I also like parents to give the child a spoon to hold, chew on while they are being fed pureed for the same reason.)

What do if my child is older and already has aversions to self-feeding or messy face/fingers?

Start basic and fun. Have a fingers only meal. Set the table as normal and serve the food and then walk around and take away all the utensils. Declare that everyone must eat with their hands for the entire meal! (Even Mom and Dad) You might get giggles or resistance, but encourage and then start to eat you spaghetti with your fingers (modeling). :)

It is also fun to let your children "finger paint" on a clean table/cookie sheet with pudding. That way they can eat, play, eat, play. They will get plenty messy!

What are some basic self-feeding milestones?
  • 6 months-12 months=  Finger feeding (this should progress from a fist of food with only one piece getting in-to using a pincer grasp to pick a specific piece and placing it in the mouth.
  • 9-12 months=  Drinking from a open cup, parental help
  • 9-12 months= Assist with the spoon, some children may even become independent with some spillage.
  • 12-18 months=  Holding open cup with 2 hands and drinking from it.
  • 12-18 months=  Grasp spoon with whole hand
  • 12-18 months=  Holding/tipping bottle/sippy cup
  • 18-24 months=  The child should self feed almost all food
  • 24-36 months=  No more sippy cup! The child should be using one hand to drink from an open cup
  • 24-36 months=  May use fingers to help "fill" spoon
  • 24-36 months=  Total self-feeding, using a fork


*Please note that not all children will meet all milestones at the same time. If you have questions concerning your child's milestone development please contact your pediatrician. 
Children with special needs, may be developmentally delayed in these areas but should still progress through the steps in a similar order. If your child has a delay or a sensory processing disorder, they may require therapy to tolerate diverse textures and to master self-feeding.



Milestones adapted from:
Joan C. Arvedson
GI Motility online (2006)
doi:10.1038/gimo17




























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