Learning To Use Cutlery
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Did you know that rushing your child in to using cutlery can actually hold them back developmentally?
Big to Small and Close to Far
The principles of child motor development are “big to small” and “close to far”. This means children will develop the bigger, chunkier muscles of the trunk and arms before the smaller muscles of the hands. The muscles closer to the trunk (shoulders), will develop before the muscles further away (hands). When a child is encouraged to use a “proper” grasp of cutlery before the shoulder and arm muscles are ready to support it, fine motor problems may emerge, such as holding the cutlery in peculiar ways, avoidance using cutlery or even tantrums and refusal to sit down to eat. So don’t be in a rush to make your little one hold their cutlery properly, let them learn naturally and probably around the age of 4 years they will have naturally suppressed reflexes and learned new skills to be holding their spoon or fork in a more “adult” way.
Running before you can walk
Like when learning to walk, children go through sequential phases of sitting – crawling – standing – walking. The same applies with the development of the hand. Control of the hand goes through different developmental stages:
Stage 1: Initially, you may find your little one holding their cutlery in a fist (grasp) with their elbow high up in the air. This is the remnants of the grasp reflex – you might remember how you would offer your newborn your finger and they would respond by clenching their fist tightly around it
Stage 2: Before your child can move on any further, the grasp reflex needs to be fully inhibited, which means they should be able to let go of an object quickly, easily and voluntarily. Building blocks of towers is a great way of doing this since your little one needs to precisely release an object to stack it. Don’t be surprised if during this time lots of food is being dropped from the highchair – this is your child developing.
Stage 3: Later, they will start to straighten their index finger to gain control over the cutlery - this is a key transition stage and is a sign that your child is developing independent finger control. No longer are the fingers treated as a single entity but are 10 individual digits in their own right. Your little one by this time will have probably had over the last couple of years hundreds of different foods on their hands. They will have separated spaghetti strands and licked slimy sauces off their fingers. These different textures and sensations on the hands and fingers help disassociate them from each other allowing your child to recognise they are each individual and so through self-feeding and BLW you should be well on your way.
Stage 4: At around 3 or 4 years of age, a “brush” grasp might be used so the cutlery is held in the fingers rather than in the fist and the elbow is still probably up high. You will probably see this same grip being used when they are painting.
Stage 5: As your little one spends time watching people eat with cutlery, they learn that bringing the elbow down and resting the forearm on the table gives better control - another good reason to eat together. With so many of us eating with just a fork nowadays, children don’t know what to do with a knife when they get to school (and don’t get me started on those knorks (combined knife and fork) – ludicrous!). Using a knife is a life skill and is another step towards your child’s independence and so age-appropriate, supervised use of a knife when eating is a key part of learning.
Stage 6: Up to now, the cutlery control has come all from the shoulder and wrist (big muscles and those closest to the body) but providing finger control has been allowed to develop (hopefully by you allowing your child to self-feed from weaning stage, through picking up their different shaped/ weighted food with their hands) your little one will now have the fine muscle control in their fingers and hands to manipulate the cutlery using the hand and finger muscles. In most children this won’t be until they are 4 ½ years old but every child is different.
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