Having a baby, or even a toddler, that can feed themselves is something that most parents look forward to. The ability to put food in front of your child and have them know what to do with it is an amazing milestone.
But how do you help your baby learn to feed themselves? And even better, how do you teach them to use a spoon or a fork?
It's time for a parenting hack
While we could get into different methods you could use to try and practice eating skills with your child, I'm talking about something much more hands off today.
I'm talking about helping your baby learn to feed themselves simply by eating with them.
It might seem simple, and too easy to be worth anything. But it works wonders!
Put yourself in your baby's shoes
What happens when you sit your baby in front of you and make a face? Does your baby laugh or try to copy you? What about if you clap? Does your baby make an attempt to clap, too?
I’m going to take a guess and say yes!
Babies are incredibly observant as they’re growing, and they take in everything that we do. Especially as they get to 6 months and beyond.
Now put yourself in your baby’s shoes. Imagine that you have never seen a piece of broccoli before.
It’s a bright color, looks like a tree, but what are you supposed to do with it? If you’re a baby, the answer might be wave it around, touch it, try to figure it out.
Maybe put it in your mouth because that’s where everything goes, but maybe not know how to actually get a piece off of it.
Now imagine that while you’re trying to figure out what to do with this piece of broccoli, you look over, and your mom or dad are eating a piece of this broccoli, too.
You watch them for a minute, and then realize that hey, if I put it in my mouth like this, I’ll be able to get a piece off of it.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit simplistic. But it’s all to say babies mimic us! They do it when playing and just interacting in everyday life. They also do it when learning to eat by themselves. This is how eating as a family can help your baby learn to feed themselves. Or even your toddler, or older kid!
It's not revolutionary, I know
Somewhere along the line, families got out of the habit of eating with their kids, and especially their babies.
So often, babies are put in their highchair and fed separately from their families. Yet we still expect them to progress beyond purees, or whatever they start with, when they have no one actually showing them what they should be doing.
On some level, eating is instinctive, absolutely. But it’s also something that is a skill, and one that will be much easier learned with someone showing them the ropes. Consistently eating with your baby and kids can show them how to handle so many different foods, from vegetables to breads and everything in between.
I’m not talking about taking very slow bites and being sure your baby is looking straight at you to help them learn. I’m merely talking about having your baby at the table with you while you eat.
No need to make a grand production out of what you’re doing, your baby or older kids will pick it up simply by being around it.
Just how is this supposed to work with babies?
Now I know that if you spoon-feed your baby purees, this can be a bit of a difficult task. How are you supposed to eat at the same time as feeding them without making yourself crazy and your own meal miserable?
Perhaps when everyone started feeding their babies pureed food years ago is when feeding babies separately really took off. It can be very hard if you’re spoon feeding, absolutely.
But even if you’re feeding purees, you can still let your baby feed themselves. Will it be messy? Yes! But if you load the spoon for them, they can deal with getting it into their own mouth while you eat your own food. And if it doesn't work the first time or twenty? That's ok! Just keep letting them work at it, and they'll eventually get it.
Why this works so well with baby-led feeding
An even easier option, and honestly one of the reasons I love baby-led feeding so much, is to give your baby foods that they can easily feed themselves.
This does entail foods like yogurt and oatmeal on spoons, but it also entails finger foods that are similar to your own food. Your baby gets the same food in a baby safe manner, watches you eat that food, and learns how to eat it themselves.
When you eat at the same time as your baby or older kids, you are imparting incredible knowledge to them. Not only are you helping your baby learn how to feed themselves. You are also showing your kids how to act at the table, what you do with utensils, how you drink, how you eat certain foods, and so much more.
People may say that babies and toddlers don’t understand all that, but think back to the clapping example. Babies learn what to do in other facets of their life by watching other people. They do with feeding, too! And it doesn't stop as they grow. Kids know more than we give them credit for. Even at 6 months old.
So ditch leaving the highchair in the kitchen, and bring it right up to the table with you. In fact, ditch the tray all together and let them actually eat at the table.
While you're at it, ditch the kid table! Eat with your kids so they can see what to do with their food and how to behave at the table. It’ll make life so much easier as they get older!