• Samantha Goldman

How to Teach a Toddler to Eat With a Spoon

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Learning to hold utensils (either writing or food) can be difficult for little hands. It can be even more difficulty with independent toddlers who don’t always want help to learn!

But, using spoons and forks is a critical part not only of development, but of social participation. So, let’s delve in to some of the common things to think about with utensils.

In the OT clinic, we often say “proximal stability = distal mobility.”

What that means is that we first develop stability at the core of our body (stomach, chest, shoulder girdle), which lets us moving our arms, and then hands/fingers with control.

Younger children, like toddlers, are still developing this stability and strength. That’s why we often see that when they try to use utensils, they use whole arm movements, instead of just moving their elbow and hands.

So, to make sure that they have the best opportunity to practice with their utensils, make sure that your child is sitting with good support. They should be able to sit fully upright in their (high) chair, with their legs at a 90-degree angle, and their feet planted firmly. If their feet don’t fully reach the ground, or high chair support, sometimes placing a stool or pillow underneath may help. By giving your child this support, they can move their arms and hands with more efficiency.

Only once your child is positioned appropriately in their chair, can they fully focus on eating and using their utensils.

The next thing to consider is the developmental stage of your child.

Children learn to grasp tools in a developmental progression. These age ranges are the “norms,” but many children develop it at their own rate. I suggest focusing more on how to help your child progress towards the next milestone instead of focusing on age ranges. Grasp on feeding utensils vary greatly, but can be similar to grasping of writing utensils. The general ranges for writing utensils areas such:

1. Fisted grasp (palmar supinate) 1-1.5 years old

2. Digital pronate: 2-3

3. Static tripod: 3-4

4. Dynamic Tripod 4+

What part of using a utensil is your child having difficulty with?

Identifying the exact part will help you better plan how to teach them to use it correctly.

- Planning how to pick it up and hold it correctly

- Force needed to stab or scoop food

- Accuracy with getting the fork/spoon to their mouth

- Holding onto the fork/spoon

- Clearing the fork/spoon efficiently

Some of my favorite ways to help kiddos with grasping the spoon or fork:

- Using thicker/rounder utensils – this makes it easier for developing hands

- Shorter utensils – sometimes promotes better grasp and may not be as heavy

- Fun utensils (construction, garden, etc) – for kiddos who don’t want to use them at all

- First work on offering it to their hand. Picking it up from the table and then grasping, requires a lot of manipulation in their hands.

- Pre-stabbing or pre-scooping food – if you just want to focus on the actual grasping pattern

- Strengthening those hands! Get out the play-doh and kids chopsticks!

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Let’s making eating fun,


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