Q: My 24-month-old, who had been using utensils pretty consistently to eat, has reverted to using his fingers most of the time. Should we force him to use utensils?
A: This is an issue that depends on a family’s cultural beliefs and practices. In some families, fingers are used to eat most food, while in other families, forks and knives are the way to go. Either way, it’s important to consider your child’s age and stage and what he is capable of mastering as you decide how best to respond.
Two-year-olds delight in using their senses to explore the world. Fingers are perfect for eating because toddlers can touch the food and examine its texture. And, for little guys, it is often easier to use fingers than to coordinate the small muscles in their hands to use a fork or spoon. But never fear, children are driven to move up the developmental ladder and act like big kids. In the next few months your son's small muscle coordination will also improve, which means that using utensils will be less challenging. Until then, if your goal is for him to use utensils, keep setting his place with a fork and spoon and give him positive feedback when he uses them. You can also set some limits around using fingers by reminding him that playing with food is not allowed. And remember, 2-year-olds are like mini-teenagers. When they know something drives you crazy, they're likely to do it even more. So try not to force the issue. Turning it into a power struggle is more likely to prolong his desire to turn every meal into finger food. Letting him make his own decision to use utensils makes it more likely it'll happen sooner.