Help Your Toddler Do It Themselves

Help Your Toddler Do It Themselves

May 3, 2023 Children

”We’ve hit the ‘terrible twos,” Angela sighed, “and Nicolas is only 18 months old. He doesn’t want to brush his teeth, he gets frustrated putting his own shoes on, and he won’t eat what I want him to!” Like many toddlers, Nicolas, who used to eat happily from a spoon with mom’s help, wants to do everything his way—and he’s getting more picky!

Welcome to the “terrific two’s”, a time when your child gets mad when they can’t do it all by themselves but doesn’t want your help, either. Research shows that when families eat together, children tend to be happier, eat a wider variety of foods and gain weight at a healthier rate. But when your child throws everything ‘good for them’ on the floor, or only wants applesauce pouches, making meals and eating together may feel like more trouble than it’s worth.

families eat together

The Montessori style of teaching has a saying: “Help me do it myself.” Keep this in mind while you help your toddler learn about eating and family meals. If you’re not fighting to get them to eat more or different foods, meals are more pleasant and they will eat better.

Help your toddler “do it themselves”:

sprinkling cinnamon

Let them be “in charge” of something, such as putting napkins on the table, sprinkling cinnamon on oatmeal or spreading peanut butter on crackers.

baby girl eatting food img

Let them use their (clean) hands to explore how food feels.

baby eatting food

Let them practice with forks, spoons and even a dull knife (make sure they’re kid-sized and easy to hold).

girl with food

Let them serve themselves with easy to grab foods like graham crackers and chunks of bananas.

baby eatting food img

Let them feed themselves. Prepare foods so they’re easier for them to eat - like cut up soft fruits, toast strips or roasted sweet potato wedges.

baby eatting food

Let them explore flavors. They can dip fruit in yogurt, or steamed veggies in a favorite dressing, such as honey-mustard.

Convenience With a Price

Pureed foods in pouches seem like a great way to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, and toddlers like them because they can be eaten without help. Parents like that there’s no mess and it can feel exciting to watch children grow up and get their own food. But just because your child can, doesn’t mean they should get their own food. You might wonder, “I thought they should do it themselves?” Children can decide some things, like which foods to eat from what parents serve, and how much to eat. But, parents of toddlers still decide what children are offered, and when and where too. This means you decide if and when to give your child a pouch.

Don’t Get Stuck on Pouches

If your toddler only wants pouches, try giving a pouch once or twice a day at meal or snack time. They might not like the changes at first. Start giving them the foods you eat, prepared in ways they can handle.

Here are a few ways those convenient pouches can cause problems:

baby girl eatting food

A Happier and Healthier Toddler

When Nicolas fed himself at meal and snack times, Angela noted, “He’s eating better. He loved the cut-up spaghetti and it was all over him last night, but he ate some cooked carrots too. He goes straight from dinner to the bathtub and it’s so much less stressful!”

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Side Lying Hold

Side-Lying Hold

  1. For the right breast, lie on your right side with your baby facing you.
  2. Pull your baby close. Your baby’s mouth should be level with your nipple.
  3. In this position, you can cradle your baby’s back with your left arm and support yourself with your right arm and/or pillows.
  4. Keep loose clothing and bedding away from your baby.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Cross Cradle Hold

Cross-Cradle Hold

  1. For the right breast, use your left arm to hold your baby’s head at your right breast and baby’s body toward your left side. A pillow across your lap can help support your left arm.
  2. Gently place your left hand behind your baby’s ears and neck, with your thumb and index finger behind each ear and your palm between baby’s shoulder blades. Turn your baby’s body toward yours so your tummies are touching.
  3. Hold your breast as if you are squeezing a sandwich. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Instead, bring your baby to you.
  4. As your baby’s mouth opens, push gently with your left palm on baby’s head to help them latch on. Make sure you keep your fingers out of the way.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Football Hold

Clutch or “Football” Hold

  1. For the right breast, hold your baby level, facing up, at your right side.
  2. Put your baby’s head near your right nipple and support their back and legs under your right arm.
  3. Hold the base of your baby’s head with your right palm. A pillow underneath your right arm can help support your baby’s weight.
  4. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Bring baby to you instead.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Breastfeeding Holds

Cradle Hold

  1. For the right breast, cradle your baby with your right arm. Your baby will be on their left side across your lap, facing you at nipple level.
  2. Your baby’s head will rest on your right forearm with your baby’s back along your inner arm and palm.
  3. Turn your baby’s tummy toward your tummy. Your left hand is free to support your breast, if needed. Pillows can help support your arm and elbow.
  4. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Instead, bring your baby to you.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Breastfeeding Holds

Laid-Back Hold

  1. Lean back on a pillow with your baby’s tummy touching yours and their head at breast level. Some moms find that sitting up nearly straight works well. Others prefer to lean back and lie almost flat.
  2. You can place your baby’s cheek near your breast, or you may want to use one hand to hold your breast near your baby. It’s up to you and what you think feels best.
  3. Your baby will naturally find your nipple, latch, and begin to suckle.

This hold is useful when: