How to Teach Children to Eat With Utensils

While your child probably isn't going to win any awards for manners, you can teach him how to use utensils from an early age. Kids as young as 5 can learn to use utensils properly, while older kids can use a lesson in table manners. Bringing utensils and table etiquette down to a kid's level is the trick in teaching your little one to handle a fork, spoon and eventually, a knife 2. Take your time and don't be afraid to get a little messy in the process.

Teach your child about utensils at the right developmental time. A 5-year-old is usually ready to begin using adult utensils, according to the book "Teaching Your Children Good Manners" by Lauri Berkenkamp 1. Waiting until your little one is ready and shows interest in using utensils will increase your chances of success -- and decrease frustration for both of you. Your older child should have had practice with child utensils, making it easier to transition into adult forks, spoons and knives.

Avoid introducing excessive utensils that are unnecessary and complicated. Your 5-year-old probably doesn't need to know the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork unless you're planning to attend formal dinners. Instead, a fork, knife and a spoon is enough for a basic education, while more advanced utensils will better benefit a teenager rather than a child.

Encourage your child to hold his utensils properly. As a younger toddler, he may have used a primitive grip to give himself better leverage when stabbing at foods. With grownup utensils, however, the grip should be more akin to holding a pencil. You may need to remind your child the first few times you change his grip.

Narrate how you eat at the table throughout the meal so your child knows which utensils to use for which foods. When you're about to dig in, tell him, "This food is easier to eat if I use my fork." Then, demonstrate the proper usage for the fork. This is also an excellent time to show your child some table manners, such as how to set his utensils down when not using them or how to lay his napkin across his lap and utilize "please" and "thank you." 3

Bring utensils into playtime so your child gets used to using them regularly. Older children can benefit from learning to use a blunt knife when playing with play dough to familiarize themselves with utensils when away from the table. When playing, the pressure of good manners is off, so your little one may feel more comfortable experimenting with her new tools.

Practice at every meal time. Accept the fact that learning to use utensils takes time and a lot of mess. Your child definitely won't be the neatest eater at first and trying to teach him all about manners can stretch out mealtimes, but it's an important skill that takes plenty of practice. By relaxing and accepting the mess and the time constraint, you make learning to use utensils more enjoyable for everyone.

Set a good example for table manners and the proper usage of utensils as you eat. Your child will likely look to you for tips on using utensils properly, so modeling the correct way to hold a fork or cut with a blunt knife can be enough for your child to pick up on your good habits.

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