Encouraging Independence At Mealtime

Mealtimes should be enjoyable instead of being stressful. Children possess a passion to be independent, which is why child care providers and parents should encourage independence during mealtimes in order to make them more enjoyable. Although parents might be accustomed to doing things for their children, which would be faster and less messy but young children learn from doing things by themselves. Encouraging self-help skills during mealtimes will enable children to improve their small and large motor skills, which further helps to gain confidence and build self-esteem. Child care providers need to focus more on independence during mealtimes not only to boost independence but to promote self-acceptance.

children at dinner table

Image source: flickr.com

In order to assist children to develop skills of feeding themselves, place the food on the table in front of them and help them through hand-under-hand assistance and verbal cues to locate and pick up the food. Where parents need to provide packed lunches to their childcare setting, offer food items that are easy to eat and the child can use hand-eye coordination to familiarise with the food. For instance, providing finger foods such as carrot sticks, spaghetti and pieces of crackers can aid finger sensitivity amongst young children. Parents can also include food items that are wrapped or requiring peeling such as a banana to develop skilful hands. Other creative ideas to promote mealtime independence involve the use of vibrant utensils and dishes that will excite and interest young children and encourage them to participate independently during mealtimes.

Parents can do the same thing at home if they seem to be struggling during meal times. Ask young children to set the table by allowing them to place their bowls and plates in order to create awareness of mealtimes. It was very important to introduce children to a wide range of food items that have a variety of texture and colour; this can help increase curiosity and further allow children to explore. Through hand-under-hand supervision, you can teach young children to eat with utensils such as a fork or a knife. Always set a specific time for mealtime and encourage the rest of the family members to sit at a table to have their meals. Through this way young children will develop a sense for mealtimes and will be eager to participate.

It is very important to use verbal cues to help children learn about what they are eating. Don’t simply place the food in their mouth rather, help connect a link between the food and the child. For instance tell them what the food is: a carrot and ask them to locate it and then guide them to place it in their mouth by themselves. Apart from teaching children about food items and using utensils, it is equally important to teach them about serving themselves. Allow young children to pour their own drinks or serve themselves using the kitchen spoon Although this might create a mess but it will serve as an extremely valuable experience to your young children and help promote independence during mealtimes. Don’t forget to incorporate instructions in basic feeding skills such as spreading using a knife safely, stirring, pouring and getting a bowl. Create a worthwhile experience for your young ones so that they don’t dread mealtimes.

Written by Carly Garrett

Image Credits: Richard Leeming