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When to Start Teaching Your Baby Table Manners

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | October 29, 2012 | Child Development

learning with utensils and table manners I’ve got another secret to share: Working on baby’s table manners is a stealthy way to boost learning.

I don’t mean fancy-shmancy teacup-holding table manners. Instead, your goal is to have baby spend as much time as possible at the family table, participating in mealtime action. Forks, spoons, and cups are tools to help keep baby involved. In the process, your family’s traditions of sharing and connecting at the table will be gobbled up, along with the yummy foods you serve. Studies show that regular family meals teach social lessons about turn-taking, patience, and listening, boost positive feelings about food, and actually build better language skills!

Five Mealtime Tips For Baby:

  1. The earlier the better. Set her bouncy seat nearby, or hold her as you eat. As soon as she can sit in a highchair, give her a regular spot at the table.
  2. Know what’s normal. Some babies quickly master using utensils, others struggle for months. Some can sit for 30 minutes or more – others are done after five. Keep offering utensils and let baby work on his skills at his own pace. Exposure to utensils is more important than accuracy. Encourage progress, but have realistic expectations. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
  3. Set limits. At about 9-10 months, baby will start to challenge mealtime rules. Intentionally throwing food and other disruptive or defiant behavior at the table means her mealtime is over. Don’t scold – just take her down and say that she’s done. Try again at the next regularly scheduled snack or mealtime.
  4. Build body cues. Offer small portions, and DON’T make your child “clean his plate.” Help baby learn when he’s hungry and when he’s full by watching him, and commenting on what you see. “Wow, you ate a lot, and now you’ve stopped. I think your tummy is full.” This helps baby learn how his own body works.
  5. Try different tools. Some prefer chubby spoons, others love toddler forks. Explore your child’s preferences to help her make progress.

Happy eating!

What family mealtime tradition helps keep your family connected?