Feed Me, Mama! Why won’t my child self-feed?

feeding

Do you feel like you are stuck feeding your child, because they won’t feed themselves?

If so, you aren’t alone.  As exciting as it is to feed your baby his or her first foods, by age three and up it becomes alarming (and frustrating) when your child isn’t self-feeding.  It’s important for the WHOLE family to enjoy the meal and that includes the parents too!  In almost every round of Happy Eating Club there is at least one parent that explains a situation similar to this one:

“My child is 3.6 years old and when he eats with my husband and I, he wants us to feed him. This behavior started because he’s never been too interested in food so we did it to make sure he ate. Now its just a pattern. We don’t care too much about it in terms of the effort we put in because we love him, but I am concerned about when he is at preschool and will be required to feed himself.  I feel like right now we are not encouraging his own independence and choice making.  What should we do?”

This is a great question and a common one, especially for parents of children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old and even older for picky eaters. The refusal to self-feed is often an attention seeking behavior and/or a behavior pattern used by picky eaters to avoid eating altogether, especially if they know they have tired, busy working parents.  While the underlying cause of this pattern requires some support with a deeper sensory learning of foods, if you are ready to make a quick change to enjoy your mealtimes again there is a simple solution, here’s what you can do:

It’s time to take turns!  Never stop doing what you are doing during mealtimes abruptly.  Continue your pattern, but once you’ve fed your son or daughter – it’s their turn.  Let your child know that you are going to start taking turns. They do one bite and you do the next. After you assisted with a spoon or fork full, re-load the utensil and then give it to your child so they can feed themselves.

When they begin to self-feed – PRAISE them!

As your child gets comfortable turn-taking with you, you can then back out slowly.  They do two spoonfuls independently and then you do one, then they do three before you do your turn until he or she is comfortably self feeding.  Remember that praising your children is free and they can never get enough!

Positive reinforcement for good behaviors at mealtimes works leaps and bounds better than giving negative consequences out at the table.  Use these tips and you will no longer be stuck working during your mealtimes, instead you can take delight in the awesomeness of your child self-feeding each and every bite.


Do you want more tips, tools and support to improve your mealtimes?  Join Cindy Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC as she supports a fantastic group of parents and caregivers for the next round of Happy Eating Club beginning on May 1st! For a limited time only use code “chewchew40” to save 40% on enrollment through April 22nd!