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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

My 2 1/2-year-old is suddenly insisting that I feed him all his meals.

Q: My 2 1/2-year-old is suddenly insisting that I feed him all his meals, even though he's done really well using a child-sized spoon and fork for almost a year now. What should I do?

A: This kind of behavior is actually fairly common. While it may seem like a contradiction at this age when most children want to be independent and do everything “by myself,” the ability to do more on their own can sometimes lead to regression and a desire to be taken care of in “babylike” ways.

Although it may seem like taking a step backward, meeting your son’s need makes it more likely he will give up this demand more quickly. Once he sees you will let him choose how he wants to be fed and knows you will be there to take care of him, he will likely move on. You are not giving him anything to rebel against. If you resist meeting the need and “make” him feed himself, you run the risk of turning this situation into a power struggle that may make him more determined to be fed by you.

So long story short, avoid making a big deal about it. Be very matter of fact in your approach. At each meal, assume he is going to feed himself. If he asks you to feed him, go ahead while maintaining the rest of your mealtime routine. Also, you can fulfill his request with some limits, for example, explaining to him that you are hungry and would like to eat a little bit and then will feed him. This lets him know you will meet his need, but also gives him an incentive to “do for himself.” During mealtime, talk about what he is eating, what you have done or will be doing that day, etc. Make it as normal as possible. I think you will find that by taking this approach, you’ve removed the power struggle from the interaction and soon the spoon will be back in your son’s hands.

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