What if your toddler refuses to sit at the dinner table? Here’s how to get your toddler to stay at the table.
It’s normal for young kids to have trouble sitting still, including at the dinner table.
This can be frustrating for parents, but remember that kids have to be shown what their role is at mealtimes and be given the opportunity to practice at the table.
Of course, this won’t come without pushing boundaries, like everything else. Below are some tips to practice helping your child learn how to stay at the table throughout meals together.
How to Get Your Toddler to Stay at the Table
1. Practice the Division of Responsibility in Feeding
We love this approach because it takes away a lot of the complications many parents and caregivers feel at meals that could be getting in the way of peaceful time at the table.
With this practice, it becomes simple. It’s your job to choose healthy foods for your child, offer them to your child, and provide them a safe space to eat them.
It’s then your child’s job to decide what and how much of the food they want to eat.
This also means that you’re trusting your child how to learn to behave appropriately at meals. Patience, mama!
2. Recognize age-appropriate time limits
We don’t have to tell you that kids have a short attention span, food involved or not. So, making sure mealtimes coincide with how long they’re able to focus and sit somewhat still is a big piece of successful time at the table.
Generally, young kids aren’t able to sit still for more than 10-15 minutes, and that may be pushing it.
This also means it’s important not to seat your child at the table until it’s actually time to serve them food, to maximize attention span. Once butts are in seats, the timer starts.
3. Set clear mealtime expectations
Speak openly with your kids about what you expect from them at the table, and what they can expect from you.
For instance, if they push food away and say “this is gross!” you can remind them that acceptable behavior is to just say “no thank you” or choose not to eat the food.
Another clear expectation is that they are not to get up and down from the table throughout the meal.
You can give them a 5-minute warning before mealtime starts, to allow them to finish playing, and then let them know that nobody will be leaving the table until “x time” (whether that’s a timer being set, everyone being finished, or another rule in your household).
4. Establish a routine
Children thrive best when they have a routine to rely on, and feeding is included in that.
Once you establish a routine, stick to it as much as you can.
Some of the biggest routines around eating can include start times, end times, where the members of your family sit at the table, and even how the table is set up and the food is generally served.
5. Incorporate creativity and curiosity
We’re advocates of food play, which is a technique designed to encourage kids to eat more while taking away the pressure of mealtime.
Some kids also feel more inclined to stay at the table if they’re allowed to bring a friend, like a stuffed animal or doll. If it’s helpful, they can create a special seat and space for their friend, too. This is up to you, as some parents prefer to have no toys at the table – which is okay!
Other creative things can include serving meals in fun presentations (like pancakes with a happy face made out of blueberries), on colorful character plates, or making it a theme night where everyone wears a costume to dinner.
If your toddler refuses to sit at the dinner table, don’t worry – it won’t last forever. Be patient, consistent, and give these tips for how to get your toddler to stay at the table.
Chime In: Have you struggled with keeping your babe at the table to eat? What’s worked for you?
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