With babies, nothing comes easy; every habit and every successful milestone is a result of someone’s effort. It could be you, your nanny, your spouse, the siblings or even strangers.
These admirable traits you see in a child out there – they are cultivated. That’s why we celebrate milestones.
There are some easily celebrated milestones, especially those that are one-off or those that happen in a short span; your baby’s first steps, successful potty training, first words and so on. Apart from these, there’s sitting up, the first day in school, first haircut and first whole night of sleep and the list goes on and on. It’s amazing how this one milestone is hardly celebrated; the ability to self-feed.
It takes great effort for a child to self- feed reliably. Self-feeding in children comes in phases, making it take the longest time to train and also extremely rewarding for you and your baby.
Here are step by step of teaching your baby the independence. First, let me break-it down to age groups.
8 Months – 9 Months:
The baby learns to hold the bottle on their own. Too early you think? Not really. Babies at this age are already putting fingers in their mouth. The hands can hardly co-ordinate but since they are mostly using non-spill bottles, this is the right time to start training.
Start with very little quantity, even 1ml will do. You will obviously get a little spill. Note that this is a sensitive age and you need to pay lots of attention to reduce chances of choking.
It’s important to confirm the baby is comfortably sitting. Preferably on a high chair and with feeding gear. This stability gives them the courage to lift the bottle back and forth. Keep the baby company and cheer them along the way.
9 months – 12 months:
This is the preferable age for introducing finger foods. Offer practice finger foods. For example; diced fruit and cheese bites.
The baby also learns to reach out and grab a spoon or a snack (commonly referred to as pincer grasp). At first, the baby will grab food with their fist and may smear it all over their face while trying to trace the mouth.
They will also put their whole hand in the mouth before they learn to take control and use fingers instead. They still can’t co-ordinate but encouraging them to continue helps to perfect the art.
Let them hold the spoon and then support by holding their hand. Gently and firmly guide the spoon to pick food and take it to the mouth. In a while, they fasten their grip so you no longer need to hold their hand. Allow baby to be in control, don’t be too quick to help, he will never learn that way. Let him struggle a bit. Do this minimally to avoid the baby getting frustrated.
12 months – 16 months:
At this point, the baby has learnt to move a spoon or fork from the plate to the mouth and vice versa. Their motor ability has greatly improved. Present them as many opportunities as possible. Realize that this is a habit they will keep all their life and so you want to set a good example.
This is a perfect time to assert hygienic habits like washing hands, wiping their mouth after a meal and using napkins.
After feeding the baby, leave a little amount of food in their bowl and encourage the baby to pick the spoon and feed. This works best if you are also eating so they can copy you as you cheer them to do it.
Give room for messy feeding, do not be overcautious about messing up, use feeding clothes, a high chair and an easy to clean floor mat to help you concentrate on the feeding rather than the mess. When you serve, let the baby play with the food. As they do so, they are improving their motor skill.
16 months – 48 months:
As the baby matures, he or she learns to eat neatly and decide when the food is tasty, hot, and cold. If they are full, they just push the food away. Assert table manners for example; sitting with the rest of the family at the dinner table and chewing while the mouth is closed.
Finally, these tips will help:
· Pick eating hours when the baby is active. Teaching your baby anything when she is sleepy or grumpy will make you frustrated and your efforts will most certainly go to waste.
· Be consistent. Offer many opportunities preferably at every meal time to ensure the baby associates self-feeding with meal-time.
· Make meal times fun time, you can introduce play where you hold something up (finger foods for example) and let the baby grab it from you. This helps build the ability to concentrate and also enhances motor skills.
· Avoid using sweet snacks to entice or apologize. Instead, use activities, like a game to motivate so that the child does not associate normal meals with less regards as compared to snacks.
· Help the baby to focus by turning off the various distractions for example; music, TV and stories.
· Make effort to serve colorful food to make it attractive, ensure different textures as well. This does not only entice the child but the more colorful the food is, the more likely it is to be nutritious. Different textures also improve the baby’s digestion.
· Respect the baby’s cue of satisfaction. Don’t use force while feeding, instead, serve nutritious meals and encourage the baby to eat, maybe by clapping for her after finishing. If need be to feed again, clear the table and let the baby have a break first then try again later.
· For toddlers, ask them to help you prepare the food. They will be more willing to eat food that they have helped to prepare as they have already owned it up.
· Appreciate your baby’s preferences; ensure the meal has something he loves. Forcing the baby to eat something they do not like makes them face meal time with a negative attitude.
· Let the baby experience a bit of hunger. Avoid lots of snacks between meals. It will frustrate you for nothing.
· Keep the baby hydrated. Some foods can easily cause constipation and give the baby difficult bowel movements.
· Lead by example. You cannot be eating junk and feeding your baby veggies. Babies are very observant and they will learn from your actions.
Finally, be patient. It could take over 20 times for them to accept a new item in the menu. Don’t give up. It doesn’t mean they hate it. Try introducing in small bits, they will eventually get it.