Dinnertime with a 5 Year Old

Updated on July 31, 2008
K.K. asks from Morgantown, PA
17 answers

My 5 year old son will not use silverware at dinner. He will hold the fork in one hand and use the other to pick up his food(including ice cream) with the other hand. We've tried, having him hold the empty hand in the air, sitting on the empty hand, threatening to take away the fork and make him use no silverware, holding the empty hand, and the rest of the threatening devices we can figure out. My 2 year old is doing really well at holding her silverware and I don't want her to see bad habits. This is after the usual begging them to eat whatever we made that they liked the last time we made it for them.

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So What Happened?

Thanks to everyone for their great responses. We're still working through it. I have backed off a little and dinner has gotten a bit more pleasant. I do give him a fork to hold in both hands sometimes and he seems to have fun with that. I have an appointment with a developmental pediatrician to discuss this and several other issues that are probably related that also to discuss some of the great things that some of you all have mentioned.

Thanks so much!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

How about giving him a fork for each hand...maybe he is ambidextrous and does certain things with his left and certain things with his right.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Is it possible that he is attention seeking and just trying to get a reaction out of you? Even though I spend a lot of time with my 5 year old, she will sometimes choose to do babyish things. I also have a 2 year old. I say, try ignoring the behavior for awhile. Also, I think it is a good idea, as someone else wrote, to observe other things he does with his hands and see if those activities are "normal" for him. Would he maybe prefer plastic utensils to metal ones? Just a thought. Good luck!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I haven't read if you have received any other suggestions but I have a couple last resort suggestions assuming it is just a bad habit and not a symptom of another problem (using the fork in the wrong hand for him, problems holding the silverware itself, etc.).

First last resort idea... Tell him if he does not start using his silverware you are going to change his diet. Tell him if he is not using his silverware for everything not designated finger food by you by day 3 (or whatever you decide) you are going to put him on a diet where he cannot pick up the food. By this I mean, cream soups (no chunks to pick up), oatmeal, pudding, purees, etc. Then if he doesn't use the silverware try the new diet for a few days. Make sure he understands he cannot drink it from the bowl. He must use a spoon. Once he shows he can use a spoon for 1 day switch to soups with noodles and chunks of vegetables. If he can eat these for a day with silverware and not fingers, switch him back to his regular diet. I doubt very much he will like eating purees, cream soups and oatmeal while the rest of the family is enjoying regular meals.

Another last resort idea... Get a pair of gloves (preferable either rubber gloves or thin cloth gloves so he doesn't overheat). Have him put the gloves on and then duck tape the silverware to the gloves for a meal or two. The tape won't be on him, so he won't be hurt in any way but he won't be able to use his fingers to eat. The other hand without the silverware, put on a glove and tape the fingers of the glove together. This way he cannot use that hand to pick up his food.

As I said, these are both last resort ideas. However, neither would hurt your son. Both, however, would make him think about what he is using to eat with and make him want to be more diligent about eating with his silverware.

A not so last resort idea... if he keeps doing it, don't have silverware on the table for a meal. Sit down and eat with your fingers like he does. If he asks about it, tell him you are tired of washing silverware that is apparently not needed. Make sure it is an especially messy meal. Something he wouldn't want to eat with his fingers. And, of course, wear old clothes. Maybe seeing everyone else eating with their fingers will gross him out. Be sure to have food on your fingers when you pass him something he wants like a glass of milk or whatever.

Anyhow, I hope other moms have better ideas... Maybe someone has an incentive program that will work for you... I just know that with bad habits, it sometimes takes constant reminding because sometimes the kids aren't even aware they are doing it. My daughter started making these noises from her throat in Kindergarten. She started doing it on purpose because she liked the noise and then after awhile, couldn't stop. She would do it while she was concentrating on something else or just thinking. It took over 6 months to get her to stop. She would do it and not even realize she was doing it to the point that she would argue with us telling us she hadn't done it. With the noises, we constantly reminded her to stop. After a while, when she would do it, we would get her attention and do it back to her quietly as a reminder. After the first few times, she would smile and say okay. The more we made her aware of it, the more she was able to recognize the behavior herself and correct it.

Anyhow, I hope someone has a better idea for you. One that requires less work, time and/or mess. Good luck and I hope you find some help in my message.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I was wondering, has your son used utensils before and now stopped, or has he never really used them?
Have you asked him why he won't or can't use them?
It could be as simple, as the others gals mentioned, that he is just doing so for attention, possibly because his sister is more active now.
Maybe have him pick out a new set of child sized silverware. I've seen them with cartoon and movie characters.

Let us know what worked.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I can relate! My son (also 5) seems to still prefer using his hands to eat. Yet there are times (like with a bowl of ice-cream) he will use a spoon perfectly and get every drop! How is your son at writing, coloring and cutting? PM me if you think there is more to it than just utensils.
What I do is keep reminding him "Fork, please!" "We are not animals!" LOL



answers from Pittsburgh on

I didn't buy them for this reason, but my almost 3 yo loves these Zoo Pals plasticware utensils. They say they're disposable, but they come out fine in the top part of the dishwasher. His favorites are the monkey spoon, the froggy fork, and the shark knife. They're in the paper products section of the grocery store next to paper plates and such. Maybe they'll help you.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Does he pick up the fork or do you put it in his hand? Have you tried having him hold the fork in the other hand? It may be as simple as that.

How is his hand coordination? Does he have trouble coloring, cutting, things like that? If so, he could just not be developmentally ready to eat with silverware. Some kids don't develope those skills as early as others. You might want to mention it to his doctor next time you take him in. He might be able to suggest some activities or excerises to increase his dexterity.

Maybe he is a very tactile child and likes likes the feel of the food in his hand. Let him finger paint or do art projects that require a lot of touching. Maybe that will satisfy that urge. Or you could provide some regular food and some finger food with each meal and tell him which food it is okay for him to eat with his fingers.

You can try giving him fun silverware and only let him use it if he is not eating with his hands.

I would try somethings before not letting him eat if he is eating with his hands. Others have given excellent suggestions. If you try them all, and it seems like he is just trying to rebel, that would be the time to not let him eat.

I would not however, never beg my children to eat. That starts a life long bad habit and causes you a lot of extra work. Put the food on the table. If they don't want to eat it, don't make them. But don't give them anything else and don't let them have a different snack later. They will find that if they hold out long enough, mom will give in and they will get what they want. Believe me that is a bad situation to get into. Tell them this is what we have having for supper. When you get hungry, it will be waiting for you.



answers from Pittsburgh on

hey K.
My first thought is to stop begging them to eat.Make what you are going to eat,place it on the table with the expectations they are going to eat.I always tell my kids,if you aren't hungry,you don't have to eat,but this will be here for you when you get hungry later,so having something else is not an option.Perhaps using his hands is an attention getter or a control thing.Stop making a big deal out of it and see if it changes.


answers from Pittsburgh on

Hi K.! Have you considered that your son might be ambidextrous? Have you tried having him use the free hand for his silverware? My Mom was a lefty that was forced (as a child) to use her right hand and as a result she still does some things better with her left hand...and even though I am a righty I too do some things lefthanded. I also found out that even though my daughter is right handed when she dances (tap, ballet, jazz and pointe) she is left-footed. Go figure! Give it a shot, have him try with the other hand, give him two forks and see which one works better...play around with it, think outside of the box...you never know what may happen! Take your stress and turn it into an adventure if you can. It's a lot more fun to discover unique quailities than stressing out! Good luck & best wishes.



answers from Allentown on

I don't have experience with this, but I would think to simply put silverware in both hands. Let him figure it out. Maybe he is more comfortable using the hand that he eats out of his hands with. I'm assuming you put his silverware in his right hand like most parents do, if you don't want to give him silverware in both hands, attempt to let him use his left hand with silverware since he's used to using that hand to eat. Keep us posted as to what works. I'd be interested to hear.



answers from Philadelphia on

wow - we are living parallel lives! My boys are also 5 and 2...and it is my 5 yr. old who tends to be more of a handful at mealtime (complaining about what was made, won't use utensils consistently). It is funny your question hit mamasource this morning...b/c we had a huge talk with my son last night (not only about mealtimes...but the bigger picture - listening to mommy and being respectful). Anyway...I am breaking out his responsibility chart and we will use it again religiously (kind of stopped using it at the start of summer...bad idea). It did work before - kids can see their progress...and they like to show it off! Mine is a Melissa & Doug chart (from Learning Express Toys). But - you can customize your own with poster board, markers and stickers.

I wish you the best!!!!


answers from Williamsport on

At this point, you shouldn't think of this as a fork and eating issue, it's a straight up discipline issue. You're totally right that you don't want your 2 year old to form the same habit. Enforce discipline about the rules regarding how and what to eat. At 5 years old he understands completely. It will be tough at first since the habit is so deeply ingrained, and he's used to winning the battle, but usually 3 days of strong enforcement will break most habits (may be longer at 5 years old). Once he sees that this will never be tolerated, and an unpleasant event (quicker and shorter the better, applied calmly-don't lose your cool, nothing long and drawn out with him seeing you get ruffled) happens every single time he doesn't eat properly, he'll begin to do it the right way. Hang tough, the only alternative is to let him control you and outgrow this eventually on his own terms.
Same with begging them to eat at dinner-Take charge! I don't offer any alternative foods, if my daughter didn't eat, she only got water until the next meal. If she threw any tantrums, played with her food, or said anything disrespectful etc, she was disciplined for that. (she wouldn't do that now, but when she was just learning) After several meal times, she got it, and now at 2 and 1/2, she knows that what we're having is what she's eating.
Any child will test you, don't worry, be strong. You can get your meal times under control and move on to enjoying time together at home or in restaurants. The other day I heard her telling our 7 month old, "Now you eat that yummy bottle, mommy made it."



answers from Harrisburg on

Hi K.,

When you set down for dinner, are you all sitting down as a family. A lot of times our little ones learn from others and maybe if your son sees you eating with the silverware, he may want to do the same. Acknowledge how well his sister eats with her silverware like such a 'big' girl. Ask him if he can show his sister how well he eats with silverware. Positive reinforcement. And as difficult as it may be, try not to focus so much on the fact that he is not using his silverware correctly. Maybe if you give it a little less attention, he'll change. Hope this helps. Take care and God Bless!!!




answers from Philadelphia on

I have almost the same situation only my daughter is 5 and son 2. We have started rewarding with desert if she eats properly. If she doesn't use her utensils and sit up to the table, she goes without desert. When she does a good job, we try to make it something she really likes like an icecream sundae. We still have some dinners that are really unbearable, but they have become more enjoyable since she knows there is a reward at the end.



answers from State College on

I'd put a fork in both hands, if he has a hand preference that will help. Also I started mine with plastic silverware and found that the fork was tough to hold food. I actually found a small metal fork that held food better and was curved enough to be useful too.

Also I served meals in courses(sounds better than gave em the least popular food first)so that when they hit the table the carrots and peas are there and they are allowed to eat while I finish getting ready. I won't put a cornbread or applesauce or even their milk on the table until I sit down so they don't fill up on the stuff they like. If I've not let them snack from 3:30 on they'll eat the veggies w/out my begging. My oldest has gotten better(now seven) but I still stage the food when I know it isn't as popular.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Kids love attention whether it be good or bad attention...it is attention. Lovingly watch him eat as this seems to be an age thing. I used to stuff my mouth and eat like a barbarian when I was younger...lol...If you show it does not bother you he may stop eating this way. The time to start teaching table manners would be away from the table. Make it short and sweet. Not during dinner time. I had a sister who would not sit on the seat of the chair during dinner. She kept to the floor under the chair. This bothered me. I asked and pleaded with both my parents to get her to act normal during a meal. I will never forget my dad saying "If anything falls up I will be sure to throw it down to her!" That ended me trying to correct what I considered a wrong. lol.



answers from Philadelphia on

Try letting your son know that your daughter is learning and he is a big part of that. With our older daughter we remind her that she needs to be a good example to her sister and she is normally proud of that responsibility. That said, we went through the same thing. It is a bit of regression and we were disappointed at first, but she got over it. We also got upset and made with the usual threats of no dessert or story before bed, but she did not budge. Sending her away from the table for not eating properly and making messes spoke to her. Also watching though, we needed reminding that even at 4 it is tempting to use her hands out of frustration or when really hungry. Good luck. Hopefully it is just a short phase for your sake. :)

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