Learning to use utensils and drink from a cup

Learning to use utensils and drink from a cup
Helping your child learn to use a spoon, fork, knife, and cup

As your child develops their coordination and fine motor skills, they’ll learn to drink from a cup and eat with a spoon. Later, they’ll learn how to use a fork, and eventually they’ll be able to use a knife as well. Find out how to support your child’s development.

If your child is less than a year old, see our fact sheet on learning to eat and drink independently (link in French).

Skills needed to eat independently

To drink from a cup and use utensils, your little one needs to be able to pick these objects up and hold them securely. Next, they need to learn how to properly handle them so they can use them to eat and drink.

To be able to eat and drink like a grown-up, your child must learn to do the following:

  • Keep their arm and hand stable so they can control their movements
  • Determine the right way to pick up a cup or utensil and hold it as they bring it to their mouth
  • Control their movements while using a fork or spoon or drinking from a cup so they don’t make a mess
  • Estimate how much food to pick up with their fork or spoon so that they don’t drop any and they can eat it in one bite
  • Control the speed of their movements to avoid spilling when they drink from a cup

Even if they make a mess when eating or drinking by themself, let your child practise so they can develop the skills they need. Through trial and error, they’ll gradually learn how to use utensils and drink from a cup properly.

At what age should a child be able to drink on their own?

Children can learn to hold a cup on their own as early as 6 months. However, your child will still need help drinking even after age 1. To make it easier for them, give them a small, narrow cup that fits their small hands and mouth. Start with just a few sips of water.

Asking a young child to drink from a regular glass or mug is sort of like asking an adult to drink from a bucket—it’s just too big!

Cups the size of a shot glass work well for young children, as do mugs with two handles. The smaller the opening, the smaller the chances of spilling. As your child grows, they can start using bigger cups.

At first, it’s a good idea to hold the cup to help your child figure out how far they need to tilt it to drink. If their cup is at least three-quarters full, they’ll only need to tilt it slightly. However, if there isn’t much liquid in the cup, they’ll have to tilt it a lot more.

We recommend serving your child beverages in a glass or cup without a lid. That way, they can practise tilting the cup to drink without spilling.

Sippy cups

While sippy cups prevent spills, they don’t help your child learn to drink from a normal cup. In fact, they can even delay this learning process, because kids don’t need to adjust the angle of the sippy cup to drink without spilling. As a result, it’s best to avoid using them.

Moreover, with sippy cups, kids have to use suction to drink. This reinforces an immature way of drinking that is associated with proper tooth and jaw development, as is prolonged use of pacifiers and thumb sucking. In addition, kids who drink from sippy cups end up holding liquids in their mouths for longer, which increases the risk of cavities if you give them anything other than water.

Straw cups

Cups with short, rigid straws can be used in conjunction with open-top cups. Sipping from a straw helps your child develop their lip and cheek muscles.

Gradually, your child’s mouth muscles will get stronger, and they’ll be able to drink through longer straws. You can also use a cup with a softer straw, as your child’s lips can adjust the amount of force applied to the straw.

You can use a straw cup when serving water to your child. To protect their teeth from decay, avoid using straws with sweet beverages.

Don’t serve all of your child’s beverages in a straw cup. Your child’s mouth muscles need a variety of motor experiences to develop properly.

At what age should a child be able to use utensils?


Eating with a spoon is difficult and requires a good amount of coordination. Your child has to pick up food with the spoon and then bring it to their mouth without dropping it. They also have to be able to put the spoon and its contents in their mouth.

Good hand-mouth coordination makes it easier to use a spoon. Children develop hand-mouth coordination by putting food in their mouth.

Children generally show interest in spoons and try to use them between 9 and 12 months. When your little one first starts eating with a spoon, don’t worry if they tend to drop most of their food before it gets to their mouth. Successfully eating with a spoon takes practice.

Little by little, your child’s hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills will improve. By around age 2, they’ll be able to feed themself with a spoon.

At this age, they’ll also be able to hold their bowl with their other hand while eating. It’s normal for kids to be messy eaters at first, but they’ll improve over time. By age 4 to 6, your child will be able to eat all kinds of foods without making a mess, regardless of the texture (e.g., liquid, sticky, thick).

Your little one learns a lot by observing and imitating the people who eat with them. To help them learn how to eat with a spoon, you can show them what to do step by step, in slow motion.


Even if your little one is still learning to eat with a spoon, they can try using a fork between 12 and 18 months, if they show interest. They will start by simply poking at their food.

When your little one is first learning, give them a fork with a short, fat handle. This type of fork is easier for little hands to pick up. Supervise your child when they’re using a fork so they don’t put it near their eyes. Little by little, they’ll learn to use a fork properly.

By age 4, your child will have mastered several ways of using a fork (spearing, scooping, and mashing soft foods). They’ll be able to eat their meals without making a mess. They’ll also be able to cut certain soft foods with the side of their fork.


Show your little one how to cut playdough or a banana with a blunt knife so they can learn how to use this utensil.

Once they’ve learned how to eat with a fork, they’ll probably want to use a knife around age 3 or 4. You can start by letting them use a kid-safe knife to spread something on a slice of bread.

Eventually, they can use a knife to cut softer foods, such as a banana or cooked vegetables. By age 6 to 8, children can cut tougher foods, like meat, if they’ve had practice.

What should you do if your child would rather eat with their fingers?

Touching food allows your child to learn more about it and discover different textures. It’s important to let them do this. That said, if your child refuses to use a spoon for anything, serve them a meal that’s hard to eat without one, such as oatmeal, soup, or shepherd’s pie.
In addition, you can do activities that allow your child to explore different textures, develop their motor skills, and use a spoon outside of mealtimes, such as during bathtime or while playing in the sandbox.
Encourage and praise them when they use utensils while letting them use their fingers when they want to, especially if they’re under 3 years old. You should still show them how to eat without making a mess and throwing food on the floor or getting it in their hair. To help your little one get used to using a spoon, you can encourage them to “feed” their stuffed animals.

Things to keep in mind

  • Your child learns by watching you and mimicking what you do.
  • Learning to eat independently can be a little messy, but it will give your little one a sense of pride. It’s important to encourage them and let them practise.
  • Using cups and utensils that fit your child’s small hands will help them learn and keep messes to a minimum.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Josiane Caron Santha, occupational therapist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: March 2024

Photo: GettyImages/Melpomenem

Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Caron-Santha, Josiane, and Solène Bourque. Bouger pour grandir : comprendre et favoriser le développement moteur des enfants (0–8 ans). Quebec City, Éditions Midi trente, 2023, 160 pp.
  • Centre Mosaïque de Québec. “Le trouble orofacial myofonctionnel.” 2023. centremosaique.ca
  • Henderson, Anne, and Charlane Pehoski. Hand function in the child. 2nd ed., London, Mosby, 2006, 496 pp.
  • Ruffier-Bourdet, Marie. Mes premiers repas avec plaisir et sans stress : allaitement, diversification, DME, néophobie. Vanves, Éditions Marabout, 2023, 128 pp.
  • Health Canada. “Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Six to 24 Months.” 2023. canada.ca