Time To Enter The Confessional

There’s something that has been bothering me lately, and I feel the need to confess it to all of you. I didn’t think it was a problem, my husband didn’t think it was a problem, but others around us keep telling us it’s a problem. And after hearing it enough, it makes a person wonder what kind of parent they are to not be more aware of things like this, and be more vigilant about taking action to correct the problem.

Here goes: I have a two year old, nearly two and a half, actually, and she cannot use a spoon or fork.

I know – I’m an awful parent, right? OK, maybe not the earth-shattering confession you were expecting, but nonetheless still an issue that seems to be pointed out to us more and more each day.

Cordy has no interest in feeding herself with a spoon. None at all. She’s actually become quite good at feeding herself finger foods, like cut up triangles of sandwiches, pretzels and crackers, and anything that doesn’t require an eating utensil. But put a spoon in her hand, and she isn’t quite sure what to do with it. She may give it a few tries, but generally will whine and thrust the spoon at us until we take it and start feeding her.

I should add that she is not developmentally behind due to her own capabilities. I can blame it all on parental laziness. When she was much younger, right at the age of abandoning baby food for whatever we were having, she hated having a bath. The bath generally resulted in screaming, thrashing, struggling to get out, and all of us feeling traumatized afterwards. As a result, we did our best to make sure she remained as clean as possible.

We sought out the best foods that resulted in the least amount of mess. She was given free reign on anything that wasn’t in a liquid or semi-liquid form, but when it came to something needing a spoon or fork, I insisted on doing it for her. That way I could control the spoon, ensuring the food ended up in her mouth instead of her clothes, her hands, or worst of all, her hair. Even non-liquid foods, like pasta covered in sauce, were controlled by me to ensure there would be little mess.

I should have given her more control of the spoon, but it seemed so easy to just do it myself. Even after she developed a love of the bath (although it still devolves into screaming and thrashing when washing her hair), I continued the practice, for my own ease. We’ve never been a family that sits around a table eating dinner – Aaron and I usually have our dinners in the living room, and often we don’t eat at the same time. (We have such different tastes in food that we often make different meals.) So Cordy often sits on my lap, while I feed her pasta, yogurt, applesauce, etc.

And now we’re at the point where our two and a half year old toddler – nearly a preschooler – cannot use a spoon, and doesn’t want to. My mom, who watches Cordy once a week, has started gradually nagging me about this fact, more and more each week, leaving me feeling like a horrible parent who can’t even teach her daughter basic life skills, like using eating utensils. And other people in my non-virtual life have commented on it as well.

While it wouldn’t bother me so much to have one parenting flaw pointed out, it usually doesn’t stop there – she also has no interest in potty training, can’t drink from a straw or actually anything but a sippy cup, watches too much TV, and doesn’t understand how to clean up her toys (she’s very good at putting one or two in a box, but then takes them right back out again and throws them everywhere). It’s enough to make me want to hide under the bed for a week.

At yet at the same time, I know we’re doing something right. She has learned to say “thanks”, she rarely acts out against us (no hitting and no more biting), she’s well-behaved in restaurants, she obeys simple safety instructions, she’s smart and can count to 15, and she’s generally a very happy child. So what if she hasn’t mastered a few skills, right? She’s always been a little behind in physical development, and in the grand scheme of things, I highly doubt she’ll be going to kindergarten in diapers with a sippy and no idea how to use a spoon. But there is a good chance she won’t be ready for preschool at three years old.

Am I a bad mommy for neglecting to teach my toddler how to use a spoon? Are there other parents out there who have spoon challenged kids, or are all of your toddlers skilled in the use of the spoon, and possibly moving on to more challenging utensils like chopsticks? Do I just need to bite the bullet, cover my kitchen in vinyl drapes, and prepare for the mess as I force her to use a spoon?

Advice welcome.

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  1. We are working on our daughter using a spoon and fork right now. She finds the fork much easier to use. I usually will put both on her tray and encourage her to use them and when she gets the food to her mouth with the fork or spoon we praise her (she loves that). I also try to give her bigger foods( not big enough to choke)just ones easier to get on the fork, that way she gets the sense of accomplishement that she did it.

    I’m sure it might take some time and a bit of a mess, but I have been reading your blog for quite sometime and Cordy is a very smart girl, she will pick it up in no time.She has just gotten a bit set in her ways maybe.

  2. None of the things you listed are major problems, obviously. She’s a smart girl, you KNOW she can learn it, it might just take some time now, is all. I can TOTALLY see where you would fall into the spooning it for her method. If you want her to learn to use a spoon/fork, well, just start giving her one at every single meal. I tend to use two utensils at meals for a toddler. One for them to feed themselves (messy and long) and one for me to load and feed for them.

    As for potty training? Well. She’s only 2 1/2. It is NOT something that is always easy, no matter what the “experts” or moms with easy potty-trainers will tell you. Some kids get it and like to do it. Some kids will rebel against it like it is a torture chamber. (ahem. MINE.) And honestly? I don’t personally feel that 3 year olds need preschool. I think that 4 year olds are just about right for that experience and then off to kindergarten. They only have a few short years to be school-free before the routine encompasses their entire lives.

    And as for picking up? WHO likes doing THAT?!? She’s no dummy. She wants to PLAY with those toys. DUH!!!

  3. You are not a bad mommy! A lot of us, as parents, tend to do things for our kids because it is easier! Myself included.

    My son was probably around Cordy’s age when I started really working with him to use his utensils. I did just what you said-bit the bullet and started! I started introducing new foods (that required the use of utensils) a little at a time. Yes, there were messes. But, after a little trial and error, he finally got it, and so will Cordy. I promise you that you will not be spoon feeding her when she is 15! LOL.

    As far as potty training, NONE of my kids (out of four) where potty trained (or even mildly interested!) before they were 3. My oldest was the easiest, after she showed interest, we worked with her every day, and it took about a week! My third child was the hardest. I didn’t think she would ever get interested at all, and after she did, and we thought we had it down-she would back track. Every child is different. They were all completely trained (with the exception of some night time wetting) by the time they were 4. It will happen. Just start taking her in the bathroom with you, asking if she needs to go, sitting her on the toilet for a few minutes to begin. Make it fun! Buy her some ‘big girl panties’, they love that! (One thing I did with my two younger children was put their panties/underwear on underneath the Pull Up at first. They get the uncomfortable feeling of being wet, but without the huge mess for mom…see, all about making it easier! LOL)

    I have found out after having four children, there will always be someone (sometimes quite a few someones) that are ready for your child to do all these things, before your child is even ready. Take your time, don’t stress over it, it will happen. All in good time.

    /long, book-like comment

    Have a great day!

  4. You know what, though? A lot of that stuff she can and will learn in preschool, depending on what kind of school it is. As I read your post and before I got to the preschool bit at the end, I was thinking about how my kids picked up those skills–and it’s mostly at preschool/day care.

  5. My argument is always, “Will it matter in ten years?”

    If not, (and I’m assuming she will learn to use a fork by age 12) then don’t sweat it. Really.

  6. I have no good advice since I don’t have kids and I don’t remember how I learned to eat with a spoon. Although, I always found that spooning food was easier in a bowl instead of a plate because of the curve at the side.

    She’s a smart kid. I’m sure she’ll pick it up over time if you’re willing to be less helpful with eating.

    BTW… when she turns 4, I’m getting her kiddy chopsticks like these


  7. Bub can use a spoon and fork – he just chooses not to. 😉 Pie, on the other hand, appears to have a strong internal drive towards cutlery-use. I’m with you – I’d rather keep control of the spoons and minimize the mess. But with the Pie, that was not one of the available options. Which is just to say – any parents who are patting themselves on the back for their children’s utensil-usage are just kidding themselves. They run the way they’re built, these kids.

  8. Well since you asked, do you have a high chair for her? Instead of sitting her on your lap, put her in the high chair to eat. Then, let her hold a toddler sized spoon or fork as you feed her. Help her spear a pasta noodle with the fork or spoon up a little yogurt, then guide her hand into her mouth.

    That being said, it sounds like you are doing a great job. I’ll take good restaurant manners, being polite and following basic safety rules over utensil skills any day.

  9. Remeber when she wouldn’t hold her own sippy and now she’s probably a pro. Just keep trying, she’ll resist in the bigging but let her continue to try. My daughter is a very picky eater and I’m notorious for caving and letting her eat the same thing night after night b/c I know she’ll eat it. Hubby always reminds me that she’s not starving and eventually she’ll eat what I put in front of her.

  10. It’s a freaking spoon. People need to lay off of you! Cordy has mastered so many other things and I can’t blame you for not wanting to clean up the aftermath.

    While I don’t have one that age, I’ll tell you what I do. When Squeaks sits down to eat, I always give her a spoon or fork (even with finger foods) just so that she gets used to it). I don’t push it, it’s just there. Sometimes she’ll pick it up and attempt to use it, other times she holds it in one hand and eats with the other. Sure it can get messy, but it’s not as bad as forcing her to use the spoon only.

    But don’t beat yourself up. I’m sure she’ll be spooning up food before she goes to college.

  11. daundelyon says:

    If there is a more stubborn creature than a toddler who’s decided they don’t want to do something, I haven’t seen it yet. Kids are messy-you should see what my neice can do to a room full of toys. Kids are strong willed-I won’t go into how we finally got my youngest brother to use the potty. And kids develop at their own pace-confession time, I almost flunked kindergarten because I couldn’t use a pair of scissors.
    Even though I haven’t gotten to spend much time around Cordy, when I have seen her, she strikes me as a bright, coordinated, vocal child. So it seems it’s not a matter of she can’t do it, it’s a matter of she doesn’t want to/isn’t quite ready to do it. (Please note this is only my semi-professional opinon.)
    If you have more concerns about her development, it might be a good thing for your peace of mind to talk it over with your pediatrician. There are plenty of things that can be done to check on where she is along the line. IF, and that’s a big if, something does turn up, steps can be taken to help.
    *chuckles* Reminds me of Web and the Space Cadet. Both of them had speech problems when they were little. Both had to go through a certain amount of speech therapy. Now we can’t get them to stop talking!

  12. I agree with all the above comments, BUT I will say this: it will be much easier for you if you can teach her to use her utensils, etc before the new baby comes. She might really resist learning those new skills if there is a new baby around already taking up your attention, so I’d maybe start working on it now. There is no doubt that she is smart enough and capable enough to do it, right now she just prefers for you to. Trust me, it’s easier to have those battles now than when you are also juggling a newborn.
    You’re doing a great job, Christina, don’t forget that!

  13. I’ll second (or third or fourth!) all the above comments. Not only is every child different, but I think every parent emphasizes different things according to their own personality. My 3 year old can handle a fork and a spoon but can’t get past two in the counting system. Both are indeed laziness on my part (I got tired of feeding her and I just haven’t gotten around to working with her on the counting thing although goodness knows Elmo has tried!). Cordy will do what she will do when she does it. My Mother always had a snide comment about the fact that G wasn’t potty trained yet. I had to consciously stop letting it bother me and every time she said something I’d just come back with something like “We’re working on it and we’ll get there in our own good time”. I guess my Mother trained me too well for me to tell her to buzz off!

    Don’t worry about it too much!

  14. Mrs. Chicken says:

    1. The Poo can’t use a fork.
    2. The Poo can’t use a straw.
    3. The Poo won’t sit on the potty.
    4. The Poo speaks in complete sentences so well that most people mistake her for a three-year-old.
    5. She won’t still be eating with her hands, using a sippy cup or wearing diapers when she is 30.

    Give her a fork and spoon and start potty-bribing (we use candy). Who cares if she can’t use a straw.

    Mr. Chicken slept in his crib until he was 5 and he went to Harvard. ‘Nuff said.

  15. Oh dear people have opinions on everything don’t they. We offer my almost three year old the use of a fork or spoon when appropriate. Mostly it is just easier for him to use his fingers so that is what he does. I am not stressing over it and you should not either.

  16. The Flip Flop Mamma! says:

    TheBeast is 13 months old, and I’ve often wondered when I should start teaching her to eat with a spoon and a fork. Like you, I think it’s just easier clean up to give her finger foods, and feed her myself all the messies. I have attempted, with her only in a diaper eating with a spoon once. She put the food on the spoon, then with the other hand took the food off and ate it with her hands.lol.

    I don’t know what to tell you, my kid will prolly be 3 and eating finger foods!

  17. An American Girl in Japan says:

    I’m a perpetual neat freak as well, so I completely understand where you’re coming from with this. I sometimes even wonder if I let my daughter have as much fun as other children b/c I’m so concerned with cleanliness, etc. That said, honestly, the sooner you begin teaching and practicing with spoons and forks, the easier it will be for her to grasp. If she gets too complacent with you feeding her all the time, she may come to expect it for far too long. Though it may seem like you have all the time in the world, the sooner you start getting her ready to accept some responsibility for herself, the easier other things will come.

  18. We provided our son with a fork and spoon long before he actually had an interest in using one. It went untouched for a while. Now he is ABLE to use it (he is 2 1/2) but he sometimes chooses not to. The learning portion really wasn’t all that messy. He’d spill a little here and there, but no big deal. We used to have a plastic mat under his chair, but he don’t anymore. He generally doesn’t make much of a mess at all. He does feed himself completely, fork or no fork.

    We all eat at the table together every night. I think that’s important. If hubby has to work late, my son and I still eat at the table together. We also only make one meal for everyone, not multiple meals for different tastes. Sometimes my son doesn’t eat much, even when it’s one of his favorites. We do have a rule that he must try everything on his plate, at least one bite. Normally he does that without even being asked. Every once in a while he will point out to me “I didn’t try my broccoli yet.” before trying it.

    As far as potty training goes, we are in the midst of that now. That’s something that everyone really does at a different pace. Some are trained before 2, and some aren’t trained by 4. I see no point in pushing before your child is interested. That just makes for a negative experience. Even now, when my son has become a pro at going pee on the potty, if I tell him it’s time to sit on the potty and he refuses, we don’t make a fuss out of it. If it becomes a negative thing, I think that will hinder his progress.

    Good luck with all of it! I imagine it will benefit you to work on the spoon and fork thing prior to the arrival of your second bundle of joy!

  19. I worried for a long time about my son getting the spoon and fork thing right. I badgered my mother until she finally told me to stuff it, “because I didn’t teach you anything!” Apparently she just left the spoon by our bowl, and ate her own breakfast.

    It worked for Val too. The only catch is you do have to make the effort to eat with your child, and that is no easy task considering their wacko schedule.

    But you’ve probably heard all this before. So I do have one important thing to say: Baby Wipe Spot Clean.

  20. Anonymous says:

    My kids are now 12 and 13 but I remember worrying a lot about such issues. Now I wish I had relaxed and enjoyed things more, and worried less. I know it’s easier said than done, but I wouldn’t worry about it. I think if you want to do something about it, you could start leaving the spoon and fork within reach and I am sure she will pick up on it and start using it.

  21. I would be concerned if she walked down the wedding aisle unable to use utensils….might be a tiny problem there *LOL*
    Don’t worry…she’ll do it in her own time.

  22. Skip the spoon and get a fork for her..a baby one.

    spoons are actually hard to use..balance is involved.

    Forks are more fun because you STAB things!

    Caity enjoys that part in between throwing the rest of the food all over the place…I have spaghetti stained ceilings!

  23. Please don’t beat yourself up over this. A lot of it has to do with the child’s interest in using utensils.

    My daughter was more like Cordy whereas my 19 mo old son almost always refuses to eat any type of table food (snacks like goldfish etc excluded) without a utensil of his very own. He will sometimes even refuse to let me feed him and takes the fork or spoon from me. I had nothing at all to do with this. I take no credit.

    My daughter didn’t sit at the table and feed herself with utensils until she was maybe 2 and a half. I hate those gross, smelly food messes where it’s in their hair and eyelashes and every other conceivable spot so I was happy to feed her more liquidy foods like yogurt, applesauce etc for as long as I could get away with it while she fed herself anything that could be picked up with her fingers. She’s 6 now and perfectly unscathed by any of it.

    If you’re really concerned, start working with her on it but don’t fret. She’s fine.

  24. I wouldn’t worry about it. Every child reaches their developmental milestones at very different ages. Like you, I dreaded dealing with messes while eating so I pretty much gave my son food that wasn’t messy or fed him messy food myself. Recently, he started taking our utensils so we figured he was ready to use them. Right now, he uses a fork sporadically (with non-messy foods). It just so happened that he was ready to practice but we definitely do not push it on him. A small adult-sized fork (I’m not a fan of baby utensils) is beside his plate for him to use if he wants to. I believe that the more you push a child, the more they will resist.

    As for eating in the living room…that might be a good habit to break. It’s good to eat at the table so that we can model good eating habits for our children. Try to eat together if you can, even if you are eating different foods. When the second kid comes along, you will need all the help you can get anyway. 😉

    Someone above said recommended a highchair. At 2 and half, she’s too old for that. A booster seat would do or even a chair made for children to sit at the table with. Good luck! =)

  25. My name is Dana and my child is 2 1/2 and will not give up the bottle. This habit is much worse, I think.

    As for the spoon and fork, Dawson does well.

    My friend’s child is the same age and they basically just left the fork/spoon on the table and walked away and he learned to use it eventually. I think that’s a bit cruel, though.

  26. smashedpea says:

    I’d only do something about it if it bothered me, not necessarily because it bothered others 🙂

    I agree with whoever said try to do it before baby comes, it’d make your life much easier.

    My 19 months old feeds herself, with a spoon or a fork, depending on what we’re having. In the early days, I used to give her a spoon to hold while I fed her, then we sometimes asked her to feed herself, but she would only take a few bites and then give the utensil back to one of us. Eventually, I stopped feeding her, unless she really needed help, whereas my husband continued to feed her. To me, I just wanted another little slice of my freedom back, so it made sense to me to not feed her anymore 🙂 My husband got the idea a little later and now we’re at the point of her not
    even wanting any help. Usually, she uses a fork or a spoon, but sometimes she stuffs food into her mouth with both hands, one with some utensil or other and one just with her hand (even when we’re having soup). She’s never made a mess that ended up with food all over herself and the dining room, though she certainly is messy and needs her hands and face wiped after she’s done.

    She used to never like that (and hey, she always hated her bath too but can now tolerate it and is even beginning to like it), but now she demands to be wiped down before coming out of her high chair. “Hands! Hands!” she says to get what she wants.

    We’re having #2 in June and I’m glad Sophs will be able to feed herself while I nurse the new monkey. If only we could get her toilet trained by then, too 🙂

  27. Sassifrassilassi says:

    I found you when I was googling “Two year old can’t use a spoon”! I did the same thing with my daughter. She only started finger feeding a month ago because I did it all for her. Now I am wanting her to use a fork and a spoon but she won’t. She’s very interested in them, but gets upset when I try and get her to do it.

    You’re not a terrible mom! It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one going throught this!

  28. Heck, I’m STILL feeding Paul, although that’s largely because he’s such a picky eater to begin with. And the only way we got him to consider using the potty was to find a school that would work with us. He had a catch-22 in that he would only use the potty when he was around other kids using it. *scream*

  29. Erica Douglas says:

    Congratuations, this post has been nominated for a Hot Stuff Award at GNMParents.

    Thanks for sharing, and good luck.

    Voting closes on Thursday.

  30. Hi Christina
    I know it’s been about 7 years since you wrote this and you must be over it by now. Would love to hear how you managed as I am suffering the exact same things you wrote about your child with mine at the moment. He is 22 months. Does not feed himself and not interested to learn. The only finger food he would eat is biscuits. Only follows very few instructions and says very little.. Does not Coleen up toys but says thank you 🙂
    I also put it on me not teaching him to self feed early on when he was less stubborn, and I don’t know where the months have gone!! I am suddenly faced with a stubborn toddler especially with regards to eating..
    I hope to hear from you on your story..

  31. I also want to know what happened.

  32. I really want to know too. Am at that point with my twin boys.