From the time your child starts trying to feed herself, she is developing the fine moter skills needed to be able to properly hold utensils. When she is old enough to use a fork and knife, be sure to emphasize proper use and table etiquette rules that, when taught early and consistently, will last a lifetime.
Proper Use and Holding
Children between the ages of 4 and 5 can start to learn how to use and eat with a fork and table knife, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Start with child-size utensils that are easier to hold for your child. Encourage the use of gripping the fork with her fingers and not her whole fist. If your child is right handed, show her how to pierce a piece of food with a fork in her left hand, while using a knife in her right to cut it. Reverse it for a left-handed child. It will take practice, but your child will be eager to try to cut her own food at the table.
Proper Utensil Etiquette
Once your child has mastered how to properly use a knife and fork, introduce her to utensil etiquette. The American style of utensil etiquette requires one to, after cutting a bite-sized piece of food, put the knife down on the top edge of the plate with the blade facing in, and switch your fork from the left to the right (if you are right-handed), using it to pick up the food. The European style is also acceptable, however, where you keep the fork in your left hand with the tines facing downward, and you keep the knife in your right hand, cutting between bites. Teach your child to use whatever style is most comfortable for you. Set an example by practicing eating in this style consistently, and praise your child whenever he uses proper table etiquette.
Table Setting Rules
A school-aged child is old enough to help you set the table properly for dinner. Start by showing her how to set up for a basic dinner with one knife and fork. The knife is placed on the right side of the plate with the blade facing in, and the fork is on the lift. To help her remember, tell her that "right' and "knife" both are five letter words, and "left" and "fork" both are four letter words. Once she has mastered this, you can add a spoon on the right of the knife, (which also has five letters), and a salad fork on the outside of the dinner fork. Make learning how to set the table fun by turning it into a game. Set one table setting completely wrong and see if she can figure out how to correct it.
Your child may benefit greatly from taking a kid-friendly class in your area on table etiquette, where professionals can teach him how to properly hold and use a fork and knife, as well as instill important table manners that will be beneficial in social settings in the future. Also, being around other children who are trying to use proper table etiquette may positively influence a child who has shown a lack of interest or effort in this area before.