My Son Won't Feed Himself

Updated on November 13, 2008
A.M. asks from Goleta, CA
7 answers

Hi mamas. My son Tristan just turned 1 year old last week, and has a quirk about feeding himself. He will only feed himself cheerios, puffs, or crackers. He totally refuses to feed himself table food, but will happily eat it if we feed it to him. I have successfully fed him chicken, beef, potato, banana, cheese, and many other foods. (BTW, we are still nursing, too.) He will see his sisters eating something and reach and cry for it, but when we put small bites on his tray, he will just cry with anger and frustration. When we feed it to him, he'll eat it fine. My first two children were totally done with baby food (jars and purees) by the time they were about 10 months old, and happily feeding themselves their favorite foods, so we're not sure what's going on here. We would only have to feed them things like yogurt and applesauce. My husband and I both want our son to move into this next developmental phase, and are perplexed by Tristan's behavior. As a test today I put his favorite puffs and cheerios on his tray, mixed with bites of waffle, which he likes me to feed him. He wouldn't feed himself any of it, but cried with frustration until I fed him a bite. Is this just 1-year-old stubbornness? Is it just that he really likes us to feed him so he is refusing? Or is it possible that he doesn't understand that he can feed himself these other foods? Have any of you mamas encountered this kind of behavior? Should we fight this battle by refusing to feed him table food beyond the first couple bites to show him what the food is? He really wants this food, so we keep expecting him to take it from us in his hand or from the tray. (I should clarify that we will certainly continue to make sure he gets nutrition by feeding him baby food and yogurt.) Help?!?

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answers from Honolulu on

Yes, I agree with S.H. Just give it time ;)
My daughter will be 2 in February and although she does feed herself (since she was about 12 months), she STILL refuses to use utensils! Oh well! They are all different in their own way! Hehe :)



answers from Honolulu on

Does he use a spoon or a spork? Let him hold one while you feed him so he can get used to holding one in his hand and then dip some yogurt on the end of it to help him get the idea that he can lick it off. The only thing I can think of is that he doesn't want to feel the different types of food on his fingers. Is he fussy about getting his fingers dirty in other situations? Does he finger paint or play in the dirt and sand? Try the utensil and see if that helps.



answers from Santa Barbara on

I wouldn't worry at a year. It takes different motor coordination to use a spoon than it does to just pick up something and plop it in his mouth. My daughter used to grab the spoon out of my hand and do it herself -- but she made a HUGE mess. And was a sloppy eater for a long, long time (actually, she still is sometimes, and she's 4!) My friend's daughter, on the other hand, didn't start feeding herself til she was well over a year, and she is super neat when she eats. I'm not totally sure there's a correlation, but if so there's definitely a plus side to letting him wait! Anyway, this is something I would not force. It may be tedious to feed him, but how many adults (or even school-age children) do you know who need to be fed by someone else? He'll do it when he's ready. I see you have two girls...I was just reminded on another question page that girls often develop faster than boys, so that may be why it seems like it's taking him a long time, compared to your girls!



answers from Honolulu on

You can't "make" a child move onto another developmental phase, until they are ready.

Each child is different... and there are gender differences in development too.

He's so young.. its common to STILL need help eating at this age. At this age, yes, they start with cheerios, puffs and crackers. THIS is NORMAL development. He is not "slow." He's just different from your daughters.

Don't force it or you will have eating/feeding problems and he will "learn" that it is a battle and not peaceful or conducive to eating...and he may just not want to eat period. It will become too "stressful" just to eat.... and a child does not need to learn that. Too much pressure.

He's only communicating the way he knows best.
He is acting normal.
Don't turn it into a power struggle or punish him for it... he's not doing it on purpose.... he is merely "telling" you his needs. Nothing wrong with that.

MOST 1 year olds do NOT feed themselves at will, or proficiently. Even at 2 years old they still need help and supervision, and for safety sake so they don't choke.

Don't worry. He will come into his own when HE is ready.
All the best,



answers from Reno on

I have not read thru all the messages here, but sounds like my youngest =] Turns out that he does NOT like to be dirty! So the dry foods were great for him to feed himself since they did not make his hands messy, but the other foods left him not so clean and he did not like that. So until he got control with the fork we had to feed him anything that he refused to touch =]. Now at the age of 3 he is feeding himself and is an excellent hand washer LOL. This 'clean' thing had some boundries, like dirt and sand did not bother him, but sticky, slimey, odd textures and temperatures where an issue. Good luck to you and I am interested to see how he does.



answers from Los Angeles on

I really think he's just not ready. Just be happy that he's not picky and eats at all. Don't create a situation where he will find mealtime unpleasant and may start to reject eating. When he's ready, he'll do it. You can always introduce the utensils to him at the beginning of each meal. He might be interested in trying out these 'strange' tools. But if he doesn't care for it. Leave it alone; don't nag or push the issue. But be consistent and introduce it to him every time so that he gets accustomed and will eventually get the point.

We never had our daughter eat with her fingers, except for snacks. Everything was put in a bowl or plate. We wanted her to know that food doesn't belong on a table or tray. We just wanted to minimize chances that she would put things in her mouth that she finds on any table/surface. And until she was ready to use utensils, we fed her always. She didn't start using utensils until she was 1 year, 8 months.



answers from San Diego on

It looks like you've received some good advice so far. I was thinking that it appears he likes to only pick up dry foods or maybe it's just easier for him? Sometimes the table foods are too slippery to get a grip on. Does he have a good pincer grasp (index finger to thumb grasp) or does he still "rake" the food with all four fingers and ball it into a fist? If he's still raking, it is probably still quite difficult for him to coordinate self feeding, and he not there yet. If it's not coordination and just the appearance of something new...try "drier looking" foods, like little squares of bread, cooked but dried off veggies, meat or cheese cut into little squares....avoid all sauces, oils...for the time being. Hopefully he will over time decide it's okay to try these new things himself. Until then, enjoy a cleaner mealtime by helping will all come eventually.

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