Any tips on teaching my kid to use a spoon?

He’s pushing 21 months old and still has zero interest in using a spoon. Not even using a spoon poorly, you give it to him and he just gives it a “WTF is this?” look and tosses it aside. Obviously he knows what one IS since he sees it in our hands all the time. According to the books and fliers, this is a skill he should have down by now. I’m not worried that he’ll be sixteen years old one day and unable to hold basic eating utensils but I’d still like to get the ball rolling on this.

I’ll save the obvious descriptions of trying to convince a recalcitrant toddler to fed himself some spoon-worthy food and skip right to the “Got any tips that worked for you?” portion of the post. I have a 13 year old as well and damned if I can even remember this stage of his development. I certainly don’t remember it being an issue.

Starve him to death and glue a soup bowl to the table. I am not a parent.

That’s…odd. I thought this was going to be a “my kid ends up with most of the pureed sweet potatoes on his head when he tries to use a spoon,” thread. (To which the answer is: strip him down to a diaper, put him in high high chair and the high chair in the shower and close the curtain. Let him practice and hose the shower, baby and high chair down when done.)

So, if he’s not using the spoon, is he exclusively using fingers? What happens when you give him soup or thin applesauce or something he can’t pick up? Does he just not eat, or do you feed him? If you’re feeding him, stop. Hand him the spoon and invite him to eat; he’ll figure it out. If you accept the spoon and feed him with it, he has no incentive to learn to use it.

If that doesn’t do it in a meal or two, then it’s time to ask your pediatrician for a referral to an Occupational Therapist. They can do a thorough evaluation and see if there’s anything to worry about, and suggest fun activities you can do to encourage spoon use, and perhaps adaptive devices he can use more easily, if they think he needs them.

That seems strange to me, too. What do you do when he refuses to use a spoon to feed himself applesauce or pudding? Do you feed him yourself? If so, it could be that he just figures you’ll take care of it - why do it if he knows you will? Lack of interest is also a possibility - we had to give my son chocolate pudding before he had a good enough reason to feed himself with a spoon. Suddenly he figured it out.

Just to be on the safe side, though, I’d mention it to your pediatrician if they haven’t asked about it during well-kid visits. He/she might have some good ideas either to tempt your son to use a spoon or recommendations for OT if necessary.

If you and your family mainly use forks instead of spoons he may not understand the reason for the spoon. It is pretty difficult to pick up most toddler foods with a spoon, however stabbing food and eating it is fun and mimics mom and dad.

No spoon -> no food.

Based on parents concerns, the world should be filled with people who can’t walk, dress themselves, tie their shoes, use a toilet, drink from a cup, use a spoon, and so on. Stop trying. My personal theory is that the youngest children, especially with much older siblings, recognizes that you no longer get a thrill out of their minor developmental stages, and just try to thwart your intentions as a means of satisfying their need for parental doting.

How would you do this with a toddler? Those hands are quick. Also, why would you??

There is no spoon.

Well, it doesn’t seem to complicated.

  1. Place spoon in hand.
  2. Toddler throws away spoon.
  3. Move bowl away, or remove toddler from food area.

Repeat as necessary.

The point is, there is no motivation for the toddler to employ the spoon if he can still achieve the reward (food) by other means.

This assumes, of course, that the parents have demonstrated proper spoon technique already.

The food denial method may seem a bit cruel, but it would also probably work.

How about picking one thing he likes but doesn’t need (pudding, applesauce, yogurt) and making it contingent on using a spoon? He gets the rest of his meal more or less as he pleases, but only gets pudding if he at least tries to eat it with a spoon.

There will be a lot of these, by the way. My kids were not very good about reading up on what milestones they were supposed to be achieving as toddlers.

Try a spork. Maybe the kid is one o’ those types.

How about, not worrying about it? Just because the standard development charts say he should be able to use a spoon by the time he’s 21 months old doesn’t mean that if he doesn’t that he’s stunted. Some kids develop later…and that’s okay.

Using some of the methods described in this thread such as withholding food if he doesn’t use a spoon are laughable.

Give him the spoon or fork and if he doesn’t use it, then no biggie.

Coming from a behavior therapist who has taught many children to use utensils, I also say no biggie. If he is otherwise normal developmentally, he will eventually learn to use a spoon.

However, if you are dead-set on him learning to use a spoon, one method you can use is most-to-least prompting. You start with the hand-over-hand method: place the spoon in his hand, then your hand over his, and feed him that way. Praise as you go for how well he is holding the spoon, feeding himself, etc. Gradually you loosen your grip on his hand, then you move your hand to his wrist, then you just gesture for him to pick up and hold the spoon, then no prompts at all. If he throws the spoon or cries, just bring the spoon back and continue without commenting on the inappropriate behavior. Over the course of several meals, you’ll see a big improvement in his spoon use.

I mostly agree with this, but also wanted to note that it should be something to keep an eye on: self-help skills are an important developmental milestone. A child who displays reluctance / inability to do things that would be typical might, possibly have some kind of motor skills issue that would indeed need attention.

Is the toddler doing other things with his hands that seem age-appropriate (grasping things, stacking blocks, etc.)? Then it’s probably stubbornness, lack of interest, sheer cussedness etc. :).

Just because we tend to jump to “ZOMG MY BABY HAS A PROBLEM”, and want to avoid overreacting, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep half an eye out when there might be a problem.

After all that blathering from me: don’t sweat it, but model the desired behavior in front of him. He’ll see Mommy and Daddy using spoons and will mimic it soon enough.

I’ve had a really busy day so I’ll be reading all the responses (thanks) in more depth later but to make a brief response:

I’m not terribly worried aside from being one of his parents and thus responsible for teaching him stuff. His pediatrician isn’t worried about him; she observed him for a good while during his last appointment and finds him to be very driven and inquisitive and he’s hitting most of his marks. He stacks things, puts smaller cups into larger cups, runs, throws a ball, etc. We haven’t really pressed him on the spoon thing but I’m inclined to agree with those who chuckle at “take his food away”. I mean, he’s going to eat dinner and the more we take his food away, the more amplified the situation becomes which means the harder it is to calmly try to get him on the spoon-usin’ track. It’s one thing to say “that’s it” when he’s throwing or dumping food instead of eating it (since he’s obviously not interested), it’s another in my opinion to take his food away because he’s trying to eat it but just not doing it “right”.

Haven’t tried pure liquids with him since the foods I’ve tried have been tackier to make up for lack of coordination in keeping the spoon level. This leads to him just trying to fist applesauce or yogurt into his mouth :stuck_out_tongue:

Duct tape.


There’s no bigger waste of time than doing stuff just because you’re ‘sposed to’. Forget about it. Spend your time filling in his baby book. Oldest child, every detail in the book up to when the next child is born. Second in line, scattered details. Youngest grows up and has to ask “Mom, why is my baby book still in the wrapper?”

Tell him he is never allowed to use a spoon. This method works great on teens.

I can’t even remember all the things my kid couldn’t do that the books said he was supposed to know by a certain time. Walk, talk, eat, swim, read. He was late on all of them, just to bug me. Now he does them all better than me, probably just to bug me.