Your Toddler and Utensils

Food Association and Fine Motor Skills

So The Learning Cottage directors stressed to you the importance of utensils when your little one turned one... Here's why:

When Do Toddlers Start Self-Feeding?

If your little one is getting ready to take a bite out of his babyhood by starting to feed himself, here's some food for thought about what to expect with this exciting milestone.
Your child is growing up and is continuing to hunger for a taste of independence. Each milestone a toddler meets is a move from stationary baby to a functioning little person. "A child being able to feed himself is an important aspect to his personal and social development," says Jaeah Chung, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Stony Brook Children's Hospital in Stony Brook, New York. "It helps him gain independence and build up a sense of autonomy." Another perk: "When a child is in control of feeding, he responds to natural cues for hunger and fullness," says Tiffani Hays, director of pediatric nutrition at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. This is a huge help for parents, who can be anxious trying to figure out if the child has eaten enough. Plus, when a child gets the proper vitamins and essential nutrients, she will continue on the trajectory of growing and developing.

Type of Development: Fine Motor Skills

It can be exciting to have your sprout saddle up to the dinner table with you (now seating table for three!), but your child is not ready to feed herself until she can sit up comfortably and confidently on her own. At around 8 to 12 months, your child will begin to use her thumb and index fingers to feed herself, Dr. Chung says. So, believe it or not, it's acceptable for her to start playing with her food using her fingers. Between 13 to 15 months, she will start using a spoon, and by 18 months, she will start using her utensils much more consistently.
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Your toddler may be at a risk for poor coordination of oral structures or delayed motor skills if he is:

- unable to eat food without gagging or choking post 12 months
- has trouble moving food around in his mouth
- has difficulty chewing or swallowing


Watch out for any food intolerance or allergy, which can lead to a lack of interest in eating and feeding. Rashes, hives, and wheezing are obvious signs that a food allergy may be to blame, but also look for subtler signs, such as a runny nose, circles under the eyes, swollen lips, and waking up with a stuffy nose. If no one else in the house has a cold and the symptoms seemed to start after you introduced a certain food, your child may be having trouble with a particular item in his diet. If you notice any of these issues, discuss them with your pediatrician.