Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

Supporting your child to use cutlery

The ability to use cutlery can be tricky for your child and young person to learn.  Our team of Occupational Therapists have put together this information to help you support your child to use cutlery independently. 

Young child eating cereal with a spoon

What skills does my child need to use cutlery?

How can I help my child to develop cutlery skills?

  • Will try to grasp a spoon when being fed
  • Holds a spoon well and tries to bring to the mouth but this is messy.
  • Drinks well from a cup with little help
  • Holds a spoon and gets food to the mouth safely
  • Eats skilfully with a spoon and may use a fork
  • Eats with a fork and spoon well.
  • Spreads butter on bread with a knife
  • Uses a knife and fork competently

The following activities use some of the same skills necessary for using cutlery. They will give your child opportunity to practice the skills, other than at mealtimes.

  • Using a dustpan and brush – encourage them to keep the dustpan still and move the brush. Your child may be tempted to move both together at the same time
  • Using scissors – start with easy patterns and progress to harder designs
  • Play with play dough, clay or other modelling  material – practice cutting using cutlery
  • Cooking or baking – let your child hold the bowl while mixing with a spoon, or let them spoon the mixture out of the bowl
  • Colouring – get them to hold the paper with one hand while colouring with the other hand
  • Opening screw top bottles and jars
  • Construction games – e.g. Meccano, Kid K’NEX

When your child is ready try using this step by step guide to learning to use cutlery

  • To help your child learn, reduce distractions (i.e. turn off the TV and other electronic devices).
  • When using cutlery, it is important that your child is in a comfortable sitting position with their posture well supported. This enables them to focus on the task and have more control when using their hands.
  • Make sure your child is sat at a comfortable height to the table with their feet flat to the floor. If their feet do not reach the floor put a box or foot stool under their feet.

Child pointing with index finger outstretchedBegin by encouraging your child to point using their index finger (the finger nearest the thumb).

To help your child remember which finger it is, let your child name this finger (‘Peter pointer’ for example). 

Your child’s pointer finger should be pointing and resting on the knife and fork as shown to help improve their control of the cutlery. Ideally, their dominant hand or hand they use for handwriting should hold the knife.

Next we use short and concise prompts: “STAB, SLIDE AND SAW” as shown in the pictures below.

STAB your fork into the food.

SLIDE your knife down the fork

SAW the food with your knife.  Encourage a sawing motion rather than just pressing down on the food.

  • Practice! Using cutlery is a difficult skill to learn and may take time for your child or young person to master.
  • Give your child opportunity to practice outside of mealtimes using playdough to create “food” to cut up. This could also include role play pretend feeding a doll or teddy.
  • It is easier to start with softer foods initially, and move to firmer foods gradually. You may also wish to support your child using hand-over-hand to guide them, or assist by holding the fork while they saw with knife.
  • Ensure the cutlery is held appropriately. This does not have to be perfect in the first instance but it does need to be effective e.g. knife the correct way up.
  • Expect untidy cutting and some tearing of food initially as they practice this new skill.
  • Encourage them to slow down and think about each stage of cutting separately (e.g., stab with the fork and then saw with the knife).
  • When talking through the procedure use as few words as possible to avoid confusion and speak clearly and slowly, allowing the child to process the information and adjust themselves accordingly.

Ensure the plate does not slip, by using a tablecloth, non-slip mat, or sticky tack to stick the plate to the table. Moulded cutlery can be purchased which has built in grooves to help with the positioning of the hand. It may help putting stickers or nail polish as a visual aid for your child to remember where the index finger should rest on the cutlery. 

The following examples demonstrate the type and quality of product you may want to copy. We do not endorse any brands.

Children’s CutlerySpecially shaped cutlery for children with finger indents and profiled grips for accurate finger control. – specially shaped with finger indents for better control.


Specially shaped adult cutlery with finger indents and profiled grips for accurate finger control.Adult Cutlery – discretely shaped with finger indents for better control.

Young children’s cutlery – designed for young children

Non-slip mat

Non Slip Mat

Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

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