Children begin to develop self-feeding skills from birth. Self-feeding is a very complex task and it is common for children to have difficulty using cutlery to feed themselves. It usually takes until a child is 7 years old before they can successfully use cutlery to feed themselves without being too messy.
For lots of children, meal times can be a frustrating and messy experience. Many children find it particularly difficult to co-ordinate the use of a knife and fork. This can impact on your child's confidence. As with handwriting, good positioning at the table is important. Ensure your child sits tucked into the table, with feet supported (use a footrest if necessary), and back against the chair.
Having a set routine for mealtimes can help children be prepared, and helps develop organisational and independence skills.
When teaching a new skill we often start at the beginning. This can be challenging for children who are struggling to master a skill. One way of learning a new task while giving your child a sense of achievement is to use the backward chaining technique. Backward chaining has been found to be particularly useful when learning self-care skills. It can also be helpful when teaching younger children and those who have difficulty learning new skills.
So what is backward chaining? You start by breaking the task down into small steps. You teach your child the last step first, working backward from the goal. You complete all of the steps except the last one and have your child practice the final step. Your child will enjoy the success that comes from completing a task. Once your child has mastered the last step you complete all of the steps except for the last two. You teach your child the second from last step and they then complete the last step themselves. Even more success! You continue like this until you are teaching the first step and your child is completing all the other steps.
This is a particularly useful technique to use when teaching a child how to use cutlery.