When Should My Child be Self-Feeding? Akron OT Dishes on Mealtime Milestones
- “My 1-year-old shows zero interest in feeding himself. Is that normal?”
- “My toddler spills so much cereal every time she tries to feed it to herself. Cleanup is a nightmare.”
- “My 5-year-old hates using a fork so much, he tosses it onto the floor every time I try to get him to use it.”
If any of this sounds familiar, it may be time to reach out to an Akron OT (occupational therapist) to decide whether your child’s feeding struggles are typical or if there could be something bigger going on that necessitates a closer look.
Independent eating is an exciting milestone for children as they move from being a fully dependent baby to a functioning little person. They are starting to gain a sense of autonomy and independence. But keep in mind that eating is actually a complex task that requires many different body functions to work in tandem. Kids need to develop/improve fine motor skills, sensory processing skills, strength in their back, arms and hands, oral motor skills, strong reflexes, gross motor skills, attention skills, visual and cognitive skills. There is ample research that shows trouble in any of these areas can affect feeding skills.
Feeding problems can generally be classified as:
- Structural abnormalities.
- Neurodevelopmental disabilities.
- Behavioral disorders.
Sometimes, there is an overlap of issues.
If a child is struggling with self-feeding, an Akron OT from Therapy and Wellness Connection can help determine the source of the trouble and help your child build up his/her skills to become an independent eater.
Sometimes, an Akron OT alone can be effective. In some cases, are efforts are part of a multidisciplinary team with doctors, occupational therapists, nutritionists, behavior therapists and counselors.
Why Would an Akron OT Help With Self-Feeding Issues?
Eating and feeding are what we in the occupational therapy sphere refer to as “activities of daily living.” They are critical “occupations” that allow a person to take care of their own body. If a child has trouble eating and feeding, an OT can help figure out the primary factors contributing to the problem. We’ll ask questions like:
- Does the child have adequate hand-eye coordination/fine motor skills necessary to use utensils or at least finger feed themselves?
- Can they move their lips, tongue and jaw well enough to chew and swallow safely?
- Are they having a tough time sitting in a single place long enough to pay attention for the whole meal?
- Do they struggle to assume and maintain a certain position/posture needed to keep their posture stable while they eat?
These are all things we’re going to be closely analyzing when we’re determining if there is a more significant problem and what the plan of care might look like.
When Should I Expect Self-Feeding?
Although lots of parents are eager to have their child feeding themselves (especially if you’ve got multiple kids at home), understand that your child isn’t ready to feed themselves until they are able to sit up confidently – and comfortably – throughout the meal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention offers this general timeline:
- Most babies can swallow a spoonful of pureed foods without choking by the time they are about 6-months-old.
- Around 9-months-old, your child can start learning how to use a cup without a lid. They should be able to hold one with two hands by about 12-months-old.
- Babies can typically begin using a spoon to feed himself/herself at around 10-12-months.
- By the time your child is about 12-months-old, he/she should be able to easily feed themselves with their fingers. These should be foods small enough to pick up and soft enough to chew. Think small, cooked noodles, pieces of bread, ripe peeled fruit, soft vegetables, small bits of sliced cheese or crackers.
Recognize that it will likely be messy for a while. Make sure you’re supervising and be prepared. Be especially concerned if your child can’t eat food without gagging or choking, has trouble moving food around the mouth or has difficulty chewing or swallowing. These could indicate delayed motor skills or poor coordination of oral structures.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Feeding problems of infants and toddlers, Oct. 2006, Canadian Family Physician
More Blog Entries:
What is Motor Planning? Cleveland Occupational Therapists Explain, July 15, 2020, Akron OT Blog