Graduating to spoon-fed is an important milestone in a baby's young life, but it's important to remember that it's a stepping stone, not an endpoint. If you play the "here comes the airplane" game for too long, you could be in for a world of hurt. As parents, it's a mistake that a lot of us make, and to the detriment of our children and their development. Self-feeding is an essential life skill, and it's one of the many reasons I don't spoon-feed my kid.
I combo-fed (breast milk and formula) my child and waited until the American Association of Pediatrics' recommended 6 months of age to start supplementing with solid foods. My daughter's first foods were purees I made myself, and with organic fruits and vegetables. She did great being spoon-fed. I added puffs and crackers when I saw she had her pincer grasp down at around 9 months, but damned if that kid didn't refuse to feed herself. With the help of a friend (who, conveniently for me, is also an occupational therapist), she started self-feeding around the time she turned 1. She's 2.5 now, and although she doesn't always opt for a fork or spoon, she manages to get most of the food in her mouth.
I think it's important that, once your child starts self-feeding, you don't look back. I do have a few exceptions, of course. If my little girl is revisiting the dinner she didn't eat or I'm sharing a bowl of ice cream with her in the living room, I'll put the spoon in her mouth because, you know, I still care about my furniture. Other than that, though, she's on her own. Here's why:
Because She's Not A Baby Anymore
Spoon-feeding a baby is completely appropriate. After all, babies aren't physically ready to feed themselves, but they do need to be exposed to "real" food. Enter mom, dad, and/or the choo-choo train. Once your kiddo is past that baby stage, though, there's no reason to keep treating them as you would an infant.
Because It's Developmentally Appropriate
My daughter absolutely has the fine motor skills required to feed herself, and she has for quite some time. According to Parents, most children start feeding themselves with their fingers at 8-12 months of age. They can start working with a spoon between 13-15 months and be expected to use utensils more consistently by 1.5 years.
Because Learning Is Messy
I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, so I understand more than most the desire to keep one's home clean. But when you don't allow your child to explore with their food, you rob them of the opportunity to engage in sensory play and stimulation. What they're learning is important, even if it does create chaos in your dining room.
Because Practice Makes Perfect
How many of us get better at anything if we don't have frequent opportunities to try? Kids are no different. Every time we sit down at the table is a chance for my child to hone her hand-eye coordination. Take the spoon out of her hand and I take that away.
Because It's Counterproductive
In the immortal words of my mother, a parent's job is to work themselves out of one. The whole idea behind child-rearing is to raise self-sustaining human beings who are kind, contribute to society, and aren't, you know, assholes. I can't achieve that goal if I'm still feeding my kid her cottage cheese when she's 3.
Because It Sends The Wrong Message
If I do something for my child that she can do herself (like feeding), I'm telling her I don't think she can do it (or at least not "right" or as well as mommy). That's not good for her confidence, and I'll be damned if I raise a child who doesn't believe in herself. Any time she gets the satisfaction of an "I did it" is a win in both the short and long term.
Because I'm Busy, Damnit
As much as possible, we sit down together as a family for dinner. I'm not as strict about other meals, though. I'll plop my kid up on a stool at the counter with carrots and a PB&J and go about my chores. I'd get a lot less done if I had to poke every bite into her piehole myself.
Because There's Another Baby On The Way
I'm 23 weeks pregnant, and I am acutely aware that my ability to attend to my toddler's needs will likely decrease drastically once I have a newborn in the house. Having her be able to dress, feed, and potty herself will be a huge help to me and will also ensure that the time I can devote to her revolves around reading and play and not basic care.
Because I Want To Take Advantage Of Her Independent Streak
Anyone who's ever met a toddler knows their mantra is "I do it myself." That autonomy is something I want to encourage. So as much as it kills me to watch her trashing her party dress with birthday cake, I let her. Even if the frosting is red.
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