In school (I have a BA in child development) I learned that there are two things that you cannot force a child to do, use the bathroom and eat. These are two actions that a child must decide to do for themselves. Because of that developing a healthy relationship with food and encouragement to feed themselves is a big deal. Messy eating is part of life and it is an important stage every toddler needs to go through.
During dinner I placed a bowl of spaghetti on Baby T’s tray with a fork in it and turned around to grab my own bowl. She had her bowl alone for not even a minute, but when I looked at her again spaghetti was everywhere. I didn’t think I placed very much sauce in her bowl, but her face told me a different story. My first instinct was to panic. I do not like messes or touching messy things that are sticky/slimy. But I know that it is so important to Baby T’s development, so instead of getting upset I just take a deep breath and let her continue eating.
How cool it is to be able to feed yourself! To be able to pick up food and put something tasty in your mouth. Baby T is going to have to feed herself for the rest of her life. It won’t always be a huge mess like it was with the spaghetti, but that is a necessary step for her to learn. At first, she was only using her hands and now she is starting to use utensils more often. Through watching other people eat around her and discovering it on her own, Baby T is going to be an expert in no time.
Not everyone has a sensory table in their home that they can fill up with cool texture, but everyone does have a high chair and food. Food comes in amazing shapes, sizes and textures. Baby T can learn her world through exploring her food. This also helps her develop a love for different textures of food. Messy eating now means that she will be more open to new foods later.
Babies learn to talk using all their senses, not just hearing someone say a word. When Baby T is eating spaghetti, she can see that it is red sauce with tan noodles, she can smell the Italian seasoning, she can feel the slimy texture, she can hear the noodles squish in her hands and she can test the delicious dinner that I cooked for her. I asked her if her spaghetti is good, if she likes the way the noodles feel and other topics that wouldn’t come up if she wasn’t exploring the food herself. Studies have shown that most of the word development a toddler learns is learned at their highchair while eating.
Fine Motor Skill Development
There is no greater fine motor skill developer at this age then a baby feeding themselves. Baby T grabs her spaghetti with her whole hand, with just two fingers or tries to poke it with a fork. All these actions are putting her fine motor skills to work.
As a parent I know it is not always appropriate for your child to get messy eating, but when it is let it happen! Your toddler will have a blast and there is so much to learn through it. Besides a bath is a quick fix to the situation.