Dinner-time Toddler Tantrums

Archived Q&A and Reviews


11-month-old throws a fit at dinnertime

May 2007

I have a lively 11 month old who lately has been throwing fits at dinnertime. She refuses to sit in her high chair, only eats-or I should say- plays and throws food while sitting on my lap facing the high chair. Eventually she gets upset and then cries for the breast. I give it to her and she is fine afterwards....but honestly I am getting tired of going through every dinner covered in food,-sometimes drenched-. By the end of the day I am often fried and I just want to eat in peace, feel human again!!! If I try to put her in her chair she freaks, arches back, and stiffens her legs- and often I get impatient, frustrated and tense. Sometimes I give her food to play with on the floor but I know this is not good for creating good eating habits-and still a big drag for me to clean up-I just need a break... anyone out there with good suggestions on how to integrate this one into dinner and help cultivate the family meal? cranky food fashion lady

It sounds to me like your daughter either isn't hungry or she is battling wills with you over where she eats. If you want her to eat in her high chair (and not in your lap or on the floor), then only feed her in her high chair. If she refuses to get in, put her on the floor (without food) to play or cry or do whatever, and try again in 5 or 10 or 20 minutes. If you manage to get her in the chair but she still throws food or a fit, assume she just isn't hungry, and get her out. After a week (or with luck a few days), she'll figure it out. You might need to give up on the family mealtime idea in order to teach your daughter the basics of eating in her own chair when she is hungry for it.

I had this battle with my son right around the same age. With absolute consistency, it did get better. We are now away on holiday, and after two weeks of eating off a hotel floor or in our laps in restaurants with no high chairs, I know we'll have to start all over again!

If you dig through the archives, you'll get some great advice about this, too. been there

My kids are past this age, and I recall similar situations. Even at 11 mos, your daughter is able to make choices. Here's how we did it. Give her two options, sit and eat in your high chair, or do her own thing out of the high chair (insert your choice of alternatives here). Give her an incentive to want to sit and eat by offering her favorite snack....in the high chair. If she throws it, then she's out of the high chair. It's a combination of giving her the choice to sit and eat and also having rules about when it's time to eat. She may cry adn tantrum, but just explain the rules in a gentle voice. The breast feeding is either an option or not at that time, but that's for you to decide how available it is to her....on demand, or at certain times, or after eating, etc. Good luck. anon

reading that post made me concerned that you are giving in to ''tantrums.'' when your child acts out with crying for the breast (or anything else) you are enforcing that behavior by giving in to them. i am not saying shove your child in the seat or not give them food if they scream for it, but even with a young child, you need to start teaching effective communication. get a stokke seat or something different for seating at the table, teach your child that throwing food is inappropriate social skills (take the food away and feed them by mouth?). you need to find acceptable alternatives. most children go through phases of hating highchairs, forms of restraint while eating, work through it! don't give in and let them have bad behavior. it won't suddenly change when they are older if you don't teach good behavior to begin with. they are never too young to have some structure - it is early discipline that helps them be functional adults in society. anon

Have you tried putting lots of toys and stuff on the high chair tray for her to play with? I do this and then feed the baby. My baby (the same age)also does the rotation between milk and food. anon

15 mo old has tantrum at dinner time

August 2005

Starting recently, my 15 month old melts down as I am making dinner, and I don't know how to resolve the problem. Generally, I'm at home alone during dinner-prep and feeding. She wants to be held while I'm in preparation mode. While I sometimes will hold her up to see what I'm doing, usually it's impractical to keep holding her because it's dangerous (I'm chopping something, stirring something hot, etc.). Sometimes, the tupperware cabinet keeps her happy, but other times it doesn't and then she just sits on the floor screaming. I talk to her or sing to her, or pat her on the back, but that alone doesn't calm her down. She has tantrums at other times too, but this one concerns me because when she gets so upset she doesn't eat much. Does anyone have any advice? I'm not making elaborate meals for her, the ''cooking'' time takes 15-30 minutes tops, and I'd like it to be time we can enjoy together. BTW, I know that she's not overly tired, because her behavior does not vary based on nap duration or timing. anon

Do you suppose your child could need to eat earlier? I found that my son, when he was about 18 months, would fall apart completely if his meal was even 15 minutes late. At most other times of day he was extremely pleasant and even-tempered. I usually fed him at 6:00, but occasionally he would start to get cranky by 5:15, and I learned pretty quickly to feed him the instant any sign of crankiness appeared -- because if I waited until 6:00 in that case, he was way too upset to eat anything, and the rest of the evening was pretty unpleasant. This meant microwaving frozen food for him, and eating with my husband later, but it worked. Once he'd had his dinner, he was quite happy to play with the pots and pans in the kitchen while I cooked. Even now that he's 4, the one thing that will most likely make him grouchy is for him to be hungry. Karen

That's pretty common for a toddler that age... They start to want to be involved in the cooking process. My son always wanted to be up where the action is. Until he got too heavy (around 2.5) I would put him in the babysling, move him around to my back so he was out of the way, and just cook like that - explaining what I was doing, and letting him have tastes. Just be sure you know where her hands are when you are using a knife (mine liked to have his hands tucked into the sling - he would happily say ''cozy!'' - so that wasn't so much of a problem) and when you're at the stove, position yourself between the stove and the baby.

Now that my son is 3, he has his own step stool, which he stands on to help me cook - measures stuff out, peels garlic, stirs, etc. Jen

First, your dinner time just might be a little too late for her. Maybe you need to up the time by 15-30 minutes. Experiment to see when this is. Is she trying to grab for food around this time? That means she's overhungry.

Second, if it's just about attention, then perhaps you are over- managing her tantrums. Giving her some comfort and attention is good, but she also needs to learn how to self-manage, to a degree, even if it means screaming it out. If she knows that screaming frazzles you (and of course it would) and that you'll fix everything if she keeps it up, then why should she learn any independence here?

I'm sure this is not what you want to hear, but I think it is a passing phase if you address it appopriately. Yes, continue with the tupperware cabinet. Allow other toys on the floor too so she can be near you. Lift her and show her what you're doing once or twice, then be firm about her needing to stay on the floor.

Once you know she is safe and you've told her that mommy needs to cook and she needs to play, RESOLVE TO IGNORE THE SCREAMS. This will be several days of hell for you where she may not eat much during dinner, but she will quickly realize that screaming doesn't give her anything during mealprep time and if she gets no negative or positive reward for it, why would she keep it up? Good luck. anon

Two things that have worked for me and other parents I know: (1) Wear your daughter on your back (in a soft pack, wrap or mei tai). If all she wants is to be held, this should satisfy her; you'll have your arms free and she'll be far enough away from knives and hot things. You'll still have to be cautious about splashes and little hands grabbing things from upper cabinets, but it's a LOT safer than trying to hold her on your hip. (2) Let your daughter stand on a chair or stool at the counter and help you. It may make a mess, but cleaning up is a lot less stressful than listening to her scream while you rush through the job. You chop and measure, let her pour and stir. If she's not very verbal yet this technique may have to wait until she's a little older, but when she's ready it will work like a charm. Added bonus: she may be more willing to eat her vegetables if SHE helped cook them! anon