Babies are introduced to solid food within the first year of life, and it can be difficult for parents to decide when to encourage children to feed themselves. However, children often show signs of readiness when it comes to self-feeding. The perfect age for a child to begin feeding himself depends primarily on physical readiness and interest.
General Age Guidelines
Children develop at different rates, and while developmental milestone guidelines can give approximate age ranges for each stage, there is no definite age at which your baby should be feeding himself. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should start introducing solid foods around 6 months of age, and babies typically will begin or at least attempt to feed themselves around 12 months of age. By the time your child is 18 months old, he should be able to pick up food with his fingers and feed himself most of the time, although it still may be a messy activity. Some 18-month-olds use spoons and forks as well. Children may develop self-feeding skills as early as 9 months old, while some do so much later. However, by the time a child reaches 24 months, he typically can feed himself without assistance from Mom or Dad.
Because there is no hard and fast age for this milestone, parents must observe their children for signs of readiness. For example, if your child can sit upright without difficulty in her high chair, can pick up small objects in her fingers, and is able to chew and swallow finger foods, she probably is ready to start feeding herself. If your child tries to grasp your food or enjoys playing with a spoon, these also are signs of readiness.
By 18 months of age, most children are working hard to gain independence, and self-feeding is an important step toward this developmental milestone. It’s okay to jump in when necessary, but don’t try to feed a child who is full. If your child is more interested in building a cracker and cheese tower, or tossing food on the floor for the dog, he is done eating. According to Kids Health, trying to force a couple more bites takes away the new-found control your child has just gained, so let your child decide what he’ll eat and how much. This helps him recognize the internal cues that tell him when he’s hungry and when he’s full.
Use unbreakable cups, plates and utensils to serve your child’s meals so that when he bangs or throws a dish, it will not break or cause injury. Choose soft foods or foods that dissolve in your child’s mouth to make self-feeding safe and easy for him. Hard foods that break into pieces and do not dissolve can cause choking. Safe finger foods for children between 12 and 24 months include cooked pasta, cooked vegetables, soft fruit, bite-sized pieces of cheese, dissolvable crackers and cookies, and dry cereal. Avoid large chunks of food and hard to chew foods, such as raw vegetables, cherry tomatoes, grapes, nuts, raisins, popcorn, chips, and hard candy. These foods are more likely to cause choking. Never leave a child unattended while eating. If your child chokes, pat her back lightly and stay calm. If choking on food is a frequent problem, postpone the introduction of finger foods for a few weeks.