There are a few areas to consider when we think about teaching a child to eat with a spoon.
Firstly, is the child able to sit cooperatively at the table and eat? Secondly, does the child have the fine motor abilities to hold a spoon? Thirdly, is the child willing to put a spoon in his or her mouth? Some children who have tolerance issues may gag with the taste of the spoon in their mouth and refuse it.
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Note: If your child does not have the fine motor abilities, we would recommend working on building fine motor strength and coordination. If your child is unable to tolerate putting a spoon near his mouth, we would recommend a desensitization program first before you tackle this target.
Assuming your child is able to eat at the table and is able to hold a spoon and put it in their mouth, then teaching a child to eat with a spoon is fairly simple.
Now to prepare for this teaching, we as parents or teachers need to be mindful of a few areas:
1) This is going to take some time. So if you are rushing through the meal, you may most probably end up feeding your child.
2) This is going to get a bit messy so have a bib ready and a placemat as well.
I would consider the following steps:
1) Start by having food placed on the spoon so your child just has to guide the spoon into his or her mouth.
2) Initially you may need to physically prompt your child’s hand to guide the spoon to his or her mouth.
3) Gradually fade back the prompt.
4) Once your child is able to put the food in his/her mouth, then you want to teach your child to scoop up the food. Portion the food so it is easier for your child to scoop the food. You may want to consider changing the utensils (plate and spoon) so that it is easier for him/her to pick it up.
5) To motivate your child to do this successfully, you could use tokens and give your child a token each time he feeds himself and then a special treat after 5 tokens.
Do remember again to give your child regular opportunities to practice being independent and also for all caregivers to be consistent. At times you might find that your helper is feeding your child because she may feel concerned for your child or find it faster and easier to feed him. Do explain to her that it is very important that your child learn to be independent at an early age.
All the best!
Director, EAP Malaysia