I am a food lover and part of the fun of food is to pick it up with your hands and shove it into your mouth. This works for some foods, but not all. My son Tristan always prefers his fingers over his fork or spoon, and when he was younger it was difficult for him to hold a utensil. After many hours of occupational therapy, Tristan finally mastered his ability to hold his utensils, but as he grew older, it became more of a behavioral and laziness issue. In order to motivate him, we used several different tricks we learned from friends, therapists, and our own creativity. Our goal was to first get him to use his fork and spoon, and then to keep using it.
Motivation is the key. Without it your child will ignore you, and meal times will become the battle of the wills. Whatever tricks or techniques you use, it must catch your child’s attention and hold it throughout a meal. You may need to use different techniques at different meals to change it up and keep it fun.
Foam blocks – Our behavioral therapist shared this trick with us, and it did wonders for our son and even for our younger daughter Keira. Place two bowls on a table in front of them with one that says Eating and another that says Finished. Initially, have all your blocks in the eating bowl and when your child uses a fork or spoon, then make a big deal of it and put one of the colored blocks into the finished bowl. The goal is to reward your child each time they use their spoon or fork independently and not their fingers. When the child is done eating, you can line up the blocks and count how many bites the child took, which also teaches your child to practice counting.
You can also change it up, for example, by building something with the blocks as they earn them instead of moving blocks to the second bowl. My son is obsessed with elevators, so I build him what he thinks is an elevator. I use verbal prompts when he has problems like “Tristan I can’t build the walls if you don’t eat with your spoon.” This seems to get him back on track. The blocks are merely an example. You can use poof balls to make caterpillars, or use other objects like Legos®, coins, or stickers. All you need is an item to which your child will connect mentally.
Favorite item – Find an item your child loves. This will be something they must earn as a reward. We use the bite size kind of candy called Reese’s Peanut Butter Mini Cups as a reward for using his utensils and eating all his food without throwing his sippy cup, utensils, or plate. He does not get the entire package, but instead only one or two cups, and we only do this at one mealtime per day because of the high sugar content.
There are a number of methods to entice your child to use a fork and spoon, but whatever you choose, consistency is key.
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