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As parents, it can be easy to compare your child to their peers, especially when it comes to being able to complete tasks and learning new skills.

But just how old should children be when they are hitting key development milestones such as learning to walk or using a knife and fork?

Focusing on one of the key learnings for children, we wanted to see just how old the average child in the UK is when they learn table manners such as using a knife and fork correctly, using adult cutlery and not making a mess at the table. While parenting expert Alexandra Kremer says children as young as one year old can potentially use a knife and fork successfully, we surveyed over 1,000 parents across the nation to see how old children really are when they master the task.

Toddler eating dessert
Kazuend

Our research revealed the average child reaches school age (four years old) before they can use a knife and fork correctly, which is a year younger than the average parent believes they should be (five years old) and a staggering three years later than the opinion of parenting expert Alexandra Kremer.

In light of this, we worked with Alexandra to develop five key things parents can do to help children who are struggling to learn how to use a knife and fork correctly, or for those who’d like their child to start learning early:

1. Be present at mealtimes

“This research reveals that only 46% of parents are bothered if their child uses a knife and fork in the home, but it’s so beneficial to incorporate this as a standard in the home because it’s a place they can learn from the example you set.”

“Children generally learn from modelling the behaviour of those around them, so will quickly pick up on any social cues they are exposed to - take advantage of this!”

Top 10 foods parents allow their children to eat with their fingers

2. Try Baby-Led Weaning

“If you want to teach a child to learn how to use cutlery from an early age, one of the best teaching methods is Baby-Led Weaning. This includes giving children as young as six months old solid foods and giving them the chance to learn how to bring them to their mouth, as well as chewing the food. Of course, this isn’t something you should do if you’re unable to be fully present at the table with them just to ensure they are safe.”

3. Make learning fun

Toddlers having a tea party with soft toys
Transformed Blog

“This is true for most things, but if your child is struggling to learn how to use a knife and fork correctly, a good way to combat this is to make it fun. This can be by creating tea parties with their toys, or just letting them practice at mealtimes without any expectations.”

4. Make your expectations clear, but don’t punish

“If it’s an older child who is struggling to pick up this skill, it’s okay to set expectations you wouldn’t for younger children. Explain to them you want them to learn, but don’t punish them if they’re unable - this could upset the child and make them reluctant to keep trying.”

5. Don’t expect too much too soon

“While it’s totally reasonable to try and teach your children these dining habits from an early age, it’s important to remember some things are just going to take a bit longer. For example, children don’t always have the developmental skills to be able to stay seated at a table for long lengths of time until they get older. The same goes for being able to eat without making a mess. So, whilst you can teach and model a child, it’s not until they are aged six and upwards that you may find that they gain a better ability to follow all the table manners that you set.”

Our new research also revealed parents are less concerned about ensuring their children use a knife and fork in school (34%), in comparison to at home (46%), out in public (42%), or at a friend’s house (43%).

young boy eating with a spoon
Anton Darius

When asked about other dining habits, the data suggests that children in the UK are five years old before they can eat a meal without making a mess; use adult cutlery; use correct table manners and sit for the entire length of a meal.

Overall, nearly three in four (70%) parents say they aren’t concerned about their child’s table manners between the ages of two and eleven years old, while almost one in five (19%) simply don’t care how they eat their food, as long as it’s eaten.

Commenting on the findings, Managing Director at Furniture Choice, Tom Obbard says: “It’s important to remember that every child is different and just because they’re achieving skills at different ages to their peers, it’s not always something to be alarmed by. Having said this, as the data shows a much later age than experts say is possible, we wanted to work with parenting expert Alexandra to help parents encourage their child’s development in this area, showing those who are struggling with their child’s eating habits that they’re certainly not alone.”

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