Although, when you're sitting for an hour feeding your six-month-old solids, you may yearn for the day when your child can feed himself, for many
parents, the messy reality comes far too quickly.
Depending on your child's own inclinations, self-feeding might start before he is one. However, some babies do not make the connection between
their hands and their food until later, especially if they enjoy being fed by you or they never have their meals with other children or adults - when
mimicking others becomes appealing.
Whilst feeding your baby is going to be the quicker, tidier option, self-feeding is an important developmental milestone. It encourages an enthusiastic
child who is engaging in eating with the confidence to do as others do and be part of the dinner table as a social meeting.
Tips for staying sane with a messy eater
OK, so now's the time to worry about the cream shagpile you bought for the dining room...
If your child's feeding chair or your dining table is not in a wipe-clean area, get a mat to put under his chair. There are some lovely colourful plastic
party tablecloths you can buy, or just an old sheet will do.
If you are the kind of person who shivers at the sight of any mess or muck, you'll need to practice some deep breathing exercises. Even the most
proficient child eater has to start somewhere, and it's best to come to terms with this now rather than turn every mealtime into a nightmare for
As for your child himself, his face, hands, clothes and hair will quickly become a canvas for a gourmet version of a Jackson Pollock. Get
some bibs you know your child will keep on (experiment with plastic ones, bibs with sleeves, bibs with a little tray to catch dropped food, etc as all children have different preferences) before
investing in a whole set of them. And try to feed things which aren't too horrendously messy if you're not going to have time for a major clean up or
change of clothes before dashing out quickly after lunch or tea.
Don't forget that food flies - so don't change into your cream linen work suit before breakfast has been cleared safely away!
Tips for getting your toddler started feeding himself
Most people will find their child takes the initiative to start self-feeding before they have even thought about it.
First snacks are usually a good way to get your child used to aiming his food at his moouth and not up his nose: fruit or vegetables cut into handy
sticks, unflavoured rice cakes or breadsticks, a box of raisins. These are wonderful snacks to keep in your bag for moments of boredom on the go,
and they give your child some ownership over feeding himself.
When you start allowing your chidl to feed himself at mealtimes, do so with simple foods - toast, small sandwiches, chopped-up food that he doesn't have to negotiate with anything more than a spoon.
If he is a messy eater, don't chide him unless he is deliberately trying to avoid eating. In which case, calmly clear away and give him some of the food again, yourself. Perhaps he is not ready to feed himself.
Few children become independent eaters overnight, and it may well be that you need to do self-feedings and parent feeding as a mix for a while.
Buy him a new plate or his own knife, fork and spoon (many shops have children's cutlery which isn't too sharp but gets the job done), and think about buying bowls with rubbery bottoms so they don't slide away from him.
If the weather is nice, perhaps try self-feeding with a picnic first - that way the birds can enjoy your crumbs!