Food and Independence
There is a time for everything and the good use of each stage can help the child to develop much better.
Weaning means an ability to eat and digest foods other than milk. It also includes a psychological change in the human being consisting of a higher degree of awareness of himself and of the external world.
The child grows so fast that the mother’s milk becomes insufficient by the age of 5 months. The mother’s milk, so precious at the beginning of life, soon needs to be supplemented with the solid food.
There are clear signs that a child arrived at the sensitive period of weaning:
- The reserve of iron accumulated during pregnancy is finishing.
- Ptyalin, an enzyme capable of digesting starch, is now present in the saliva.
- The teeth start appearing
- The child can crawl and move in the environment.
- The child controls his hands and can use them for holding food and eating it at his own pace.
- The child can sit, first with some help
- The child shows a strong interest in the external world and different foods are part of this interest.
Weaning marks the end of a requirement for the maternal milk and is usually completed by 10 months of age. At this point, infants can eat practically everything that adults can and they can also do it by themselves taking food from the plate, putting it into their mouths and chewing it, demonstrating that the period of sucking as a way of ingesting food has gone together with the need to be physically attached to the person when eating the food.
The child goes through the rapid development during the first year of life – from a totally dependent newborn full of needs to a child of 10 months who is able to share our food. The body is still small, but the brain acquires more functions every day, which need to be used. After all what is the point of having teeth and knowing how to chew and digest complex foods, if you keep receiving food in a bottle?
There is a law of development that is constantly in effect: all that is necessary and indispensable up to a particular point later becomes outdated. To continue is not only useless, but can actually be harmful to development. Life does not go backwards and needs to be accompanied by intelligent assistance in its progress towards better things.
Infant who no longer attaches to the breast and who is able to move around freely does not break off their relationship with their mother as some people promoting prolonged breastfeeding fear. In fact relationship is transformed into a different way of being together, which requires less direct contact and more contact through sense organs like sight and hearing, which pick up information at a distance. Just as we were happy when the newborn proved capable of breathing unaided, now we should be pleased that the child can live without the maternal breast. Accepting this separation means accepting the road that human beings must travel down in order to become increasingly themselves and to achieve the self-awareness of being a unique and special individual in a society of equals.
By 6 months children have prepared everything needed: the ability to digest adult food, motor ability to move freely in space, self-knowledge that enables a clear differentiation between self and the environment. We need to change food in order to change the relationship.
One of the frequently made errors is that of wanting to keep the child attached to the mother longer than necessary, either at the breast (which is no longer needed) or by making yourself indispensable as a support person to whom the child clings because he was not given the time to experience the pleasure of moving his body freely. Since there is an ideal time for every change we should be careful not to keep the child in a state of dependence that no longer corresponds to his real abilities.
The ability to eat solid foods is also an expression of the readiness for greater independence.
The child’s independence is biological in the sense that the mother is not needed any more as a food-producer. It is also psychological because the child can now receive the new food in a different way – sucking is about to give way to chewing.
The child also establishes a new relationship with the environment – now the child receives food from a person offering it in front of him, he does not have to be physically attached to mother any more. The two partners in this act are siting and facing each other. At this point, a table and a chair serve as important educational tools. The space established during feeding is a concrete expression of a psychological space. It is the beginning of “detachment” in a positive sense and it enables the child to develop his feelings of autonomy and independence.
Now we have in front of us the most important quest we can have at our table, the human being we have conceived are helping to progress in human relationships and towards independence. We are together with the child sharing one of the most human and pleasurable acts of social life.
The prolonged use of bottle can spoil the natural interest of the child in the food around him. The sensitive period for weaning passes unnoticed and when the parents finally decide to have the child change from the bottle to a more human form of eating, some children resist the change and remain attached to the bottle.
Food should be put on the table to allow the child a clear view of it – he needs to see where it comes from and should be first fed with a child-proportioned spoon and later learn to use spoon/fork by himself.
The child should always feel that he is in control of his mouth and that nothing can enter without his permission. It is easy to become violent with the food because very often we are more interested in giving it in the shortest time possible. Food should be pleasurable at all times in our life.
Some practical tips:
Create a kitchen that is accessible to your child:
- Provide child-sized utensils – place mats, cups, bowls, forks, spoons, jugs. Place these in a cupboard that is low enough for your child to access for himself. Show how we set a table.
- Children are more likely to eat something if they have helped to prepare the food. Small children can do simple tasks like scrubbing a potato, spreading bread, squeezing citrus juice, cleaning a carrot or cutting banana using child-sized knife (not too sharp with a rounded edge for safety). Demonstrate how to do this slowing down your movements and breaking more complex movements into simple steps.
- Enjoy your time together!
- When he has finished show how to wash up the things and put them back in their special place in his cupboard.
If the child refuses some type of food, let a few days pass before presenting it again. And if something keeps being refused it should be accepted. Do not insist on particular foods, because we should never transform the pleasure of eating into an imposed act.
Now the child has reached the possibility of participating more fully in some of the important activities of his environment. He is able to eat the same food as the rest of the family at the family table and is another step on the road to independence and development.
From the book by Silvana Montanaro “Understanding the Human Being”