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My 20-month-old son refuses to eat with a spoon. He started to use one and pretty well quite early, but now for a few months he refuses and gets upset when I try to encourage him. He will take the spoon and put food on it and then hand it to me to give to him instead of feeding himself. When I try to encourage him to feed himself he will get very upset.

He’s also not talking much yet. Has a few words but not a lot. Pediatrician says she isn’t too concerned because he’s bilingual and that can take them more time. It’s just hard because he can’t tell me what he wants and gets just as frustrated with me as I am with him.

How to make my toddler eat with a spoon?

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One thing that worked for us was to use the 'monkey see, monkey do' approach. We'd sit him in his high chair, a bit away from us (so it mommy wasn't quite in range of him to do it for him), and we'd eat our food in the same way we wanted him to, and make somewhat exaggerated gestures and talk about what we were doing. Sometimes he'd just copy us, which of course worked perfectly, and when he didn't we would try something like this:

Look Tommy, I'm eating my food with my spoon!

  • (dip it in the bowl in a big gesture)
  • (pick it up near but not in the mouth, a foot or so away)
  • (put it in the mouth)
  • (big chomping gesture/noise)
  • (remove from mouth, no food on it)

Why don't you try now?

You also may benefit from simply not focusing on him while you/he eat. Kids at any age, but particularly under-3, like to have Mommy or Daddy do things for them instead of themselves doing it, because it's getting your attention, and it's easier. Taking away the possibility of that, by just focusing on what you're doing, often gets kids to do things for themselves that they won't do while you're at all in the picture.

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  • The best suggestion is teaching by example, as Joe mentioned. Kids learn mostly by copying behavior of parents, siblings, or other kids.

  • Try different spoons of different size, shape, color, or material, and see which ones the child likes. Maybe offer the child to play with them, not necessarily at the table. Many adults have preferences for what they consider quality tools, and these preferences can be very specific. For kids, the preferences for eating utensils can be quite important. We used metal utensils, including a few pretty toddler spoons with stainless steel eating surface and a plastic handle with colored design. We avoided all-plastic utensils.

  • Do nothing. Just wait, be patient and don't worry. As children grow, persuading them to use a spoon gets easier (same goes for many other behaviors).

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