Dad is feeding Baby Zap, but Baby Zap is not cooperating. At first, she doesn't want to open her mouth. Then she tries to grab the spoon. Dad is frustrated,
and worries that Baby Zap won't get enough to eat. Besides, if she feeds herself, he can just imagine the mess. Dad struggles, but finally decides to let Baby Zap feed herself. Happy again, she eats her food.
Especially between ages one and three years, a child is struggling to be independent. That means your baby will want to start doing things for herself, like using a spoon. And refusing to eat what you give her can be her way of feeling like her own person.
When your child manages to feed himself, it's quite an accomplishment, and should be praised, even if it is messy! If you respond to your baby's delight and excitement about something he has done with your own delight and excitement, it strengthens the brain circuits for these emotions, so he'll be able to feel them more easily in future. If your response clashes with his - maybe you're indifferent, or even irritated, instead of excited and happy - his circuits are confused and fail to strengthen. His accomplishment and excitement make a connection, but your response is needed to make it a good one.
Babies are going to make a mess when they eat. Giving them foods that they can manage with either a spoon or fingers will help a bit. However, it's best just to be prepared: use bibs and towels, have a wide table top, preferably with a lip to keep food on it, and perhaps cover the floor under her chair. Parents need to balance giving some independence to their child with their concerns about how much food the child eats and how much mess is made. Don't worry that eating with fingers will teach bad manners - this is temporary.
Babies get hungrier some times more than at other times - they don't necessarily eat according to your schedule. Try not to make an issue of getting food into your child. He'll let you know when he's had enough. And he won't let himself starve. Over the course of a few days, everything will balance out.
It's helpful to have meals and snacks at regular times, so the child learns to expect when she will be fed, and so will her body. For meals, try giving her something you know she likes, along with something you want to introduce her to (but it's okay if she doesn't eat it).
As your child tries to become more independent, there may be times you'll be frustrated. Many parents try to over-control the child at these times, or else they give up and withdraw. You have to find a balance, and remain available and supportive. Be ready to help out when your child's efforts to be independent don't quite work, perhaps because she doesn't yet have the skills she needs.
Food for Thought:
- What baby skills should parents watch for before expecting their child to eat by himself?
- When should my baby get a bit neater when she eats?
- What other things does a baby need to start doing for herself to develop her independence?
- How will I know if my baby is eating enough? How can I take my baby to someone else's place when he makes such a mess eating? Can I give my baby too much control, too much independence?