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Using cutlery

Some children find using cutlery difficult. This can be because they have a movement or learning difficulty or just have a lack of experience with cutlery.

If your child is struggling to use cutlery, you’ll notice that they:

  • Choose to use their hands instead of cutlery
  • Avoid foods that they need cutlery to eat
  • Find it difficult to hold the cutlery, perhaps with a loose or awkward grip
  • Aren’t sure how to or can’t use cutlery once they’re holding it
  • Make a lot of mess when they eat

There are a number of techniques you can use to help your child develop cutlery skills, including:

  • Eating at the same time as them so they can copy you
  • Using the right sized cutlery, e.g. child-sized cutlery or chunky cutlery for a better grip
  • Making sure they’re sat high enough that they can comfortably prop their elbows on the table, their feet are supported and their bowl or plate is on a non-slip mat
  • Introducing a child sized spoon between nine and 12 months old and letting them play with it and get used to the motions of eating by feeding their toys. When they’re confident, let them use the spoons during meal times and using your hands to support their elbow and guide their hand
  • Introducing a child sized fork once they’re confident using a spoon. Start by loading the fork for them and using your hands to guide them
  • Giving them foods that will stick to the spoon, e.g. porridge, mashed potato and puddings, or are easy to stab with a fork, e.g. fruit or cooked vegetables
  • Giving them a fork and a spoon at once to practice with a piece of cutlery in both hands

Using an open cup

You can also introduce a cup for them to drink from. Try:

  • Starting with a cup with two handles to help them hold it. Once they’re confident with this, introduce a cup with handle and eventually a beaker they need to hold with both hands
  • Filling the cup half way with thick drinks, e.g. smoothies, milkshakes and yoghurt drinks, to give them more time to practice their lip seal around the cup
  • Slowly helping them lift the cup to drink from. Once they’re confident, start giving them less and less help
  • Giving them a see through or tilted cup so they don’t have to tip their heads back as far

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and by two years old they can’t use a spoon to feed themselves independently, please speak to your health visitor or GP.