Encouraging children's independence with eating & drinking

Encouraging children's independence with eating & drinking

To optimise and encourage a child's independence with eating and drinking there are several ideas which you may like to think about or implement:

  • The table position and design should enable easy and close access. Children should be able to comfortably rest their forearms on the table edge, with shoulders relaxed.

  • The practicality of the dining chair. Full length armrests may provide support when sitting down and standing up from the chair, but can prevent close access to the table. Children will feel most comfortable if both feet are well supported - specialised seating can offer postural support to children so that they can function easily and independently.

  • Comfortable, calm, enjoyable, distraction free environments can assist both your child and the person helping. It is difficult for children who need to focus on the actual process of eating and drinking when people are continually moving around or doing other tasks. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).

  • The type of flooring: smoother floor surfaces make moving a chair close to and away from the table easier.

  • Specialised cutlery and crockery can assist with overcoming various difficulties such as reduced grip, lack of muscle control, restricted movement and weakness of the arms and shoulders.

  • A regular routine can help children understand what's going to happen, be familiar with what is expected of them, stimulate their appetite, be cooperative and enjoy themselves at mealtimes. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).

  • Familiar placement of items or the use of a placemat or tray with outlines for the plate, cup and utensils can provide visual cues at mealtimes. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).

  • A thoughtful menu appropriate to your child's physical ability will make it easier for them to manage eating independently. For example, rather than serving a whole steak to a child who has difficulty cutting food, serve a casserole because the meat is already cut up.

Some children may never be able to eat or drink independently - you might wish to read our advice on assisting a child with feeding.

To view the equipment mentioned above, click on the links below:
Activity chairs
Bowls & plates

Advice last checked: 30 January 2018 Next check due: 30 January 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement


  1. Novita Children's Services 2008  Mealtime Routines
    View reference   Last visited:  13/03/2009 Evidence type: 2