Learning to pick up slippery pieces of avocado or dip a spoon into warm baby cereal is tricky! Ask any 6-, 7- or even 8-month-old child dealing with the learning curve of grasping food in their little fist or trying to manipulate a spoon. When babies get too frustrated, they lose confidence in their ability to learn new skills. Here are five ways you can build your baby’s self-confidence as he travels the road to independent self-feeding:
1. Pay attention to his feet.
As shared in this article, you need your feet to eat. Make sure that baby is well positioned in his high chair with a stable trunk and hips, supported by feet firmly planted on a foot rest.
2. Use the latest innovative tools for beginners and beyond.
Baby needs a pre-spoon to learn to dip before learning to scoop. The NumNum GOOtensil is designed to build self-assurance from the very first attempt at self-feeding. The short, textured handle allows baby to keep a firm hold on the pre-spoon as he dips and brings new tastes to his mouth. The flat design helps babies learn to close their lips and draw food off the spoon with the mouth and cheek muscles. Combine that with the NumNum Beginner Bowl to create self-reliance with less mess. The sides of the bowl are ingeniously sloped to guide baby’s dipping-stroke as he learns to eat. Plus, the base of the bowl is non-slip, making it almost impossible to tip.
Secure bowls and plates not only keep the mess to a minimum, but they can also provide extra stability for fine motor skills. Try the ezpz Happy Bowl — it magically sticks to almost any smooth surface with a vise-like grip so that your little one can securely hold the side of the bowl as he learns to scoop. Think about it: Try eating a bowl of ice cream with one hand behind your back – it’s frustrating and messy! We use our opposite hand to stabilize the “working” hand performing any fine motor skill. When you provide the right tools for the job, you’ll not only nurture budding independence, you’ll help foster a love for all kinds of food, because the task is ezpz!
3. Show baby how it’s done.
Babies learn via imitation, and the more they can watch you eat, the faster they’ll learn the ropes. Remember to include conversation or the social aspect of mealtimes too! That back-and-forth dinnertime conversation (he babbles, you smile and tell him how smart he is!) helps your little eater build receptive and expressive language skills while becoming an adventurous eater. Win-win!
4. Wait and watch.
Don’t jump in to help too soon. Give your child a chance to problem-solve if he can’t quite catch the slippery noodle in his bowl or has trouble holding on to a slice of banana. While we don’t want to come to our kids’ rescue instantly, we can parent proactively by giving slippery foods a bit of traction. Coat avocado, bananas and even noodles with cracker crumbs. Just smash the cracker in a plastic bag, toss in the slippery foods, shake and serve!
5. Use playtime to boost eating skills.
Fine motor skills develop over time, and play is the best way to practice the skills that baby needs for self-feeding, including holding and manipulating objects or foods. At about 6 months, your child will begin to rake up bits of food with his entire hand while he attempts to curl his fingers to act like a garden rake. Even letting go of the food can be tricky! You’ll see him use his lips to grab the food from his little fist until he gains control and improves his fine motor skills.
Between now and then, your baby will rake, then slowly begin to refine the movement by using the thumb with his other fingers and eventually be able to pick up one small cookie with just his thumb and index finger together like a pro! Officially known as a “pincer grasp,” that fine motor skill will begin to emerge (although in an immature fashion) at about 9 months of age. The pincer grasp allows baby to gently squeeze an object to hold it steady and then bring it up to their mouth with control. Once again, parent proactively by helping him develop a pincer grasp via interactive play.
During playtime, take a lightweight toy that’s flat (thus easy to grab with the thumb and forefinger) in your own pincer grasp and hold it steady in front of baby so he can reach his hand toward it. At first, baby will need more surface area on the toy to “pinch.” Over time, as he improves his skill, move your own pincer grasp closer and closer to the edge of the toy. Now, baby will have to coordinate the finger and thumb in a more refined manner, grasping just the edge of the toy. By gradually moving your hand closer to the edge of the toy over time, baby will build fine motor skills without becoming frustrated.
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, CNN.com, Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips, and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!
The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.