23 Month Old Refuses to Feed Herself

Updated on December 08, 2009
H.H. asks from Mount Vernon, NY
9 answers

My 23 month old daughter will not feed herself (although she is perfectly capable). I know I am eventually going to have to refuse to feed her, and when she gets hungry enough she will feed herself, but most of the time she refuses lunch altogether, so I would hate her to skip breakfast or dinner, which she would without thinking twice.

Every single bite of every single meal in a negotiation regardless of the self feeding issue (she hates to eat!), so this is just another obstacle but it is beyond frustrating.

Any advice would be appreciated, Thanks!

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your advice. It definitely helps so much to know that I am not the only mom out there dealing with this issue. I have made a conscious decision to not struggle with food anymore. If she eats, she eats, if not then there is always the next meal. No more negotiations or coercing. I have started to leave out healthy snacks during the day that she can pick on though, and that has been working a little.
You guys are all great. Thanks again!

More Answers



answers from Rochester on


You have to sit and feed her. I discovered this with my son. Sometimes he will, sometimes he won't. he has a weight issue, so it's an issue for me.

Don't make feeding a time for a battle. It will only lead to eating issues later on.

She probably has a problem with getting her hands dirty - and that is fine for a while. Kids get texture issues and can't sit there and say 'I don't want to touch this slimy thing, or rough thing, or cold thing or warm thing or whatever thing it is I don't know what it is I don't want to touch it at all!' She doesn't have the words and doesn't have the concepts to explain what she feels yet.

It's like not forcing feeding. She has a will. It is her own. You can try to make her do stuff, but she will constantly and consistently reassert her will (unless you do something that totally breaks down her will and that just isn't acceptable!)

My son will eat some foods some days and ignore them others. If he's had spinach 3 days in a row, he looks at it and says 'no'. I give him a choice, a bite, then a bite of something else. If he still chooses no, then I put it away.

I am the Mama, and I am responsible for making sure that he knows he is welcome to eat at our table.

In other news, I also restrict added sugars altogether (and am working on cutting out unsprouted grains, because they are just empty sugars also - why else do they have to add supplements? Sprouting allows the germination process to add nutrients to the substance). Yup, this means he has not had a bite of birthday cake in 2 years. he hasn't missed it, but you'd think from my PARENTS of all people that I was depriving him of life itself!

There is so much to diet that is given to us by the media and there is so much to learn about what is truly healthy.

Good luck making choices for your baby girl.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rochester on


You have a lot of advice here, but I have a suggestion if you want her to self-feed (which is pretty normal to expect at his age). If you eat meals with your daughter (rather than while standing and feeding her and washing dishes and then sweeping around the table, which is what I end up doing), try offering her her meal while you eat yours, and let her know that you are feeding yourself and cannot feed her, or try letting her feed you a bite of your food while you feed her a bite of hers, just to get her to enjoy being more independent. My kids think it is hilarious if I let them stuff a soggy Cheerio in my mouth. Also, letting her go without a meal or two is not going to hurt her. Does she make big deal out of wanting you to feed her (like throwing a tantrum or throwing her food?) or does she just sit there and refuse anything? If the latter is the case, try letting her know that she does not have to eat her food if she does not want to, have her wait a reasonable amount of time, and let her down from the table. Tell her after that she can have a snack later and continue the pattern. It might be too hard for her if you have been feeding her all along to just stop altogether. If there is a cultural element to feeding her at this age, it is also important to maintain that. :)

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answers from Syracuse on

I am not trying to alarm you, because as others have agreed sometimes toddlers are just stubborn, however, my friend Jen thought her son was a picky eater and a couple years later when he was tested for speech she found out that he's got textures issues. Really sensitive. If every bite is a battle, then maybe it's more than willpower. Have you spoken to your ped or is your mommy radar telling you this is something more? I thought my lil guy was have trouble with his speech, my ped thought he was fine, I had him tested anyway and I was right he had articulation and phonic problems...it was caught, he was helped and the problem was eliminated before he ever went to kindergarden. On the other hand, if you really think it's just willpower...I say start now...put the food in front of her and get busy with something else(like the dishes or whatever)she might not eat for a couple of times, but as long as you don't let her snack or drink her hunger away...she will eat. That's another thing too...no milk before or during meals only after(and only if she eats) otherwise the milk fills them up and they're not hungry. Good luck!



answers from New York on

Hi my son is 21 month sold and he also refuses to feed himself....he was born 2 months premature But is speaking full sentences and is also capable...so i understand your frustration..he doesnt even hold his own bottle....but i am afraid to just NOT feed him because he is also already a fussy eater and underweight for his age,,,,if you find out any good advice i would love to hear it also! good luck from one stay at home mom to another! :)



answers from New York on

I wouldn't worry about it. She will eventually feed herself. At around 20 months my daughter was evaluated by Early Intervention and they told me that I needed to let her feed herself so I did as they said. Well, she used to eat great when I fed her, but once I insisted that she feed herself she stopped eating most foods and except for breakfast most meals are stressful. Now I put her meal in front of her and if she eats it she eats it. When she asks to get up from the table I let her go. Anyway, if I could do it over I would continue to feed my daughter until she wanted to feed herself. Of course there would probably be some other feeding issue, just look at all of the other mothers on this site with feeding issues. I just wouldn't push it with her, you will both be happier. Good luck!



answers from New York on

My son also refuses to feed himself, unless he is starving and I am not feeding him fast enough! He is 27 months old now.

Honestly, I don't make a big deal out of it. His old day care fussed about this so much, starting from when he turned 1, and I saw that honestly it was only because they did not want to be bothered with feeding him. I also fretted, thinking that my son was not "normal," however, I am glad I got over this.

As long as you know your daughter can feed herself, she is fine. I notice that my son will feed himself at day care sometimes, and sometimes not. I am glad his new day care does not make a big deal of it either way. I think my son jsut enjoys the interaction we have when I feed him. It relaxes him and I think he gets a little thrill of getting attention from mommy. To me, I have learned that it also works to my advantage - less mess to clean, and overall meals take less time. Since I know that he can feed himself, I am confident that when he gets a little older he will want to do it himself, as he desires to become more independent.

Just to put it in persective, in many other cultures outside the US children are fed and treated much like little babies until they are about 4 or even 5. All they children are, I am sure, fine. Like my parents, who are not from this country - my dad will still try to burp my son. At 27 months! It's hilarious to watch (he doesn't listen when I tell him it isn't necessary - my kid has NO problems burping or farting). It is just ingrained in them that they are still babies until much older.



answers from New York on

My son did this and I found that by putting out a plate of healthy food he could graze on throughout the day allowed him to feed himself without him going hungry or me fighting with him when he wanted control. I offered him food at meal times without feeding him and if he didn't eat it it went away and meal time was over no arguments, bribes, etc. If he got hungry he ate off of his healthy plate and that was that until the next meal time. He learned quickly that if he was hungry than it was best to eat at meal times and because he didn't get a reaction out of me it was better (although hard on me!). He never went hungry because he grazed on the healthy snacks and after a few days was feeding himself and eating at meal time. If your child senses your anxiety over eating they will react so with no reaction from me he just ate (this was after pleading, begging, cajoling, bribing, yelling etc!). Hope this helps and good luck!



answers from New York on

I think this is the dirty little secret of a lot of moms...myself included! My 20 month old son eats baby jarred oatmeal with lots of milk and cream and extra baby oatmeal just to keep his weight in check. He doesn't seem to like other breakfast food, except sausage and bacon (he usually will feed himself those, big surprise) Other than that, the only food my son will happily feed himself is fast food french fries and sometimes pears. So I obviously end up having to feed him because those (with the exception of the fruit) are all treats. I think she will soon want to feed herself, especially when she goes to school and sees other kids eating by themselves. She will feel like a baby if only mommy feeds her. So don't worry about it...they grow up so fast!



answers from New York on

at that age my son always ate better if i helped feed him so that's what i did. when he got closer to 3 he did not want my help anymore. i remember asking my mom friends if it was ridiculous to be feeding him at that age and found that most of them were doing the same with their kids.

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