The Fork on the Floor
While it's usually a joyous day when the baby starts picking up her own food and freeing up Mom and Dad to enjoy their own meals, don't get used to it just yet because things are about to get crazy again. Dr. Betts says, "Children usually show interest in using a fork or spoon by 12 to 15 months of age, but do not fully grasp the skill until 18 months or so."
Signs of readiness include your child attempting to grab the spoon when you bring it to her mouth or asking for her own utensils. Begin by investing in a few sets of toddler silverware which tend to feature short rubber handles for easy gripping, spoons with a nice deep dish for secure scooping, and forks with rounded tines to prevent accidental eye pokes. Your little one might want to mimic your adult eating behavior right away but could also get bored after a few bites or frustrated that she can't get as much food as quickly as she can with her hands. Don't worry if she abandons the utensils for a time; just keep encouraging her to use them when she forgets and help scoop or spear food for her to lift to her mouth for difficult dishes like pasta or rice. By the time she's around age 3, you can start insisting that she use a fork full-time, although your help may still come in handy every now and then.
True Life Tale: My 18-month-old had us convinced that she lacked the manual dexterity to use a fork for most meals. She'd vainly attempt to jab meat, only to have it shoot across the plate, vegetables would fall away before reaching her mouth. We helped feed her in our delusional fear that she'd starve without us ... until we saw her in action at a birthday party. That little faker was able to use her fork to cut bite-sized pieces from her slice of cake and get every last crumb to her mouth ... ice cream, too! From then on we knew that her dinnertime helplessness was her way of retaining her babyhood and getting one-on-one attention from Mom and Dad, which we happily supplied in other ways ... after she ate her dinner!