How to teach your toddler to eat independently?



Independence is one of the things I always wanted to teach my child even at early age and a good skill to start with is feeding on his own.


Babies establishing trust (Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory)  to us as their parents is the first step. This is by satisfying their basic needs in their infant years (0 -12 months) which is feeding them as the top physiological need (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)  and other things that they needed for survival. Once they learned that they can be safe with us, listening to our simple commands can be easier thus teaching occurs.

Since toddlers are still in Oral Stage (Freud’s Psychosexual Development)their primary source of interaction is through their mouth which we have to take advantage on. So teaching them through visual and repetitive manner is the best way for them to learn. Eating with them or showing them how to eat using utensils lets them imitate (Bandura’s Observational Learning Theory) what they see.

Children are observant in nature. When they act what they see and you reward them (Skinner’s Operant Conditioning), they’ll repeat the action because they know that they are doing a good deed. So whenever they start holding finger foods and feed themselves, appreciate them by saying a simple “Good job baby” with a smiling face.

When to expect my baby to feed himself?

Here are the 4 most important skills your baby needs to develop  to prepare him for feeding independence:

  • Hand – Eye Coordination

It all starts with our babies’ palmar grasp or grasp reflex (0-2 months) wherein, when we put our finger to their palm, they automatically hold it. Then on the next month of their life, they try to reach out for that cute mobile you hang (about 9-12 inches from their face) in the crib . This is when they develop their visual motor skill; they touch or hold what they see.

  • Hand-Mouth CooRDINATION

On their fourth month, they’ll love putting whatever is in their hand to their mouth. So in this stage,we should be alert to prevent choking.

  • Gross motor (Sit Up Independently)

This are large movements that involves the use of the big parts of the body like arms and feet. At about 18 months, sitting upright steadily is the most important skill he needs to develop. Also, other gross motor skills like reaching out, controlling body movements to be able to reach out for food will be prominent.

  • Fine Motor (Pincer grasp)

After the introduction of solid foods at 6 months, our baby starts to hold things using their thumb and index finger that is known as the pincer grasp. Smaller actions using fingers or even tasting and touching (fine motor skills) are being develop between 8-12 months thus finger foods could be prepared for them.


  • 2 months – Hand-eye coordination
  • 3 months – Hand-mouth coordination
  • 6 months -Introduction of solid food
  • 8 months – Sit on his own
  • 10 months – Pincer grasp (finger foods)
  • 11 months – Started holding spoon then eventually fork but still lack of control
  • 18 months – Can eat independently either by hand or by spoon  (but STILL MESSY!)
  • 20 months – Plus fork! (Slightly messy) And also, can drink on his own but using plastic wares.

STAGES (Based on experience and observation)

Don’t get frustated if your child can’t follow the numbers. Every child is unique, just patiently teach them. Remember that consistency is the key. We all go through process and you can also refer to these stages even without the numbers.

Stage 0: Smash Cake

Have you ever watched Funny Baby Videos on Youtube? Some clips are babies ruining cute little cakes with mess all over their face; that’s the “Smash Cake” trend. It is an American tradition which is being adopted by few Filipino families like we did.

When my son turned 1 year old, we did this but not all the visitors appreciated the moment since not everyone is familiar. But for me and my husband, this is his first taste of sweet and also, a “go” signal for him to explore food for independence.

Stage 1: High Chair

It is important for them to learn how to sit upright by using high chair. Also, a good preparation for potty training since sitting is our position for feeding and pooping.

This stage is still an exploration. Start giving them finger foods. Let them know different textures like smooth for bread or rough for puffs. Give them time to improve their fine motor skills also by starting to let them hold spoon and fork (use plastic and with heat indicator). Use the simple command of “scoop-am” (am in Filipino baby talk means eat).

EXPECT A MESSY TABLE! Make sure that every utensil and surface is clean. Disinfect their table every after feeding, sterilize the spoon and fork and pick up every bit of food they drop. Train them about cleanliness little by little starting from their plate. This is by putting all the food in the center of their plate.

Make sure that you show them how to do it then let them do it. Always say VERY GOOD when they did it and SMILE. They’ll love doing the action over and over again until they can do it on their own!

Stage 2: Own Chair

Once you observed that they can sit on their own, buy them their own chair. This is the stage to hone gross motors skills with their arms, legs, torso and feet. Let them get their own chair when it is time to eat and make the level of an adult chair their table (or their own small table).

This is a preparation for them to climb starting from floor level to an adult chair. They can use their small chair to climb in an adult’s chair. In this stage, make sure to polish their fine motor skills; holding and using the spoon and fork well and less mess.

Stage 3: Family Table

FINALLY, a table for two! If your tod is good enough to climb and sit on an adult’s chair,then this is the best thing in self-feeding because you can eat together and share moments together.

Always EAT BESIDE or WITH YOUR KID because they gives them the feeling of security and love. Do not forget to say, JOB WELL DONE! Happy eating ^_^


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