Toddler Refusing to Eat in Highchair

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2 year old won't sit down for dinner

April 2005

My 2.5 year old will not sit still for dinner--if it's in her highchair she climbs up and sits on the edge, and then stands up so we have to get her down or fear she'll fall; if it's the dining room table, she stands up on the chair, or gets down, if it's in one of our laps, that lasts for a bite. She won't sit in the booster seat. She will, however, have a bite of food, run down the hall, run back and have more food. This is not only frustrating, I am afraid she's going to choke. Plus it doesn't set a good precedent for eating generally. The one place she sits still briefly, is on a little chair we have on the deck where we have a small end table that's just her size. I am considering getting a small table and chair for inside, but don't want to spend the money if there's some way I can teach her to stay at the big table. She's incredibly well behaved in every other aspect, she's definitely getting enough healthy food to eat throughout the day and speaks and understands clearly when we talk to her--she just doesn't follow our request/insistence/firmness/nicely asking/etc to sit down to eat for a few minutes. Help....

I'm going through the exact same thing right now. But recently I found a solution. I sit my 2 year old down at the table with us in a chair like ours so she feels like a big girl. Then I bought her a Dora mat. She loves Dora so much that she can't wait to sit down and eat on Dora. So find a charater that your child likes and find a mat, it worked wonders.
We just went through that with my 2.5 year old and what I tried worked like a charm after only two times of doing it (I am very proud of myself!).

My son would not sit at the table and would attempt to make his way out of the kitchen altogether. I told him he had two choices: sit at the table and eat with us or sit in the bedroom by himself. He tested his control and I brought him to the room and closed the door for two and a half minutes. When I let him out (he was very upset the whole time and it was torturous!) he sat at the table. As I said above, he attempted to control the situation again the next night and I did the same thing! He hasn't tried to control us since. He enthusiastically comes to the table for all meals now and eats until he is done. We praise him for his cooperation and he is very proud of himself! I mean it when I say that every day he is getting better at this!! Good luck! LogicalMama

All of a sudden, 15-mo-old refuses high chair

Nov 1999

All of a sudden my soon-to-be 15-month-old daughter refuses to eat in her high chair. She wants to sit in our lap at the dining room table and eat there. How do we get her to eat in her high chair again? So far (just two nights right now), we have told her that if she doesn't sit in the high chair, she won't get dinner. So she will have gone to bed without dinner for two nights in a row now (though she still got her bottle before bed). It feels horrible to let her cry and go without dinner. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

I'm not sure an almost 15 month old can fully comprehend the punishment of going to bed without any dinner. It sounds a bit harsh to me. Maybe she is simply out-growing her need for a high chair. Our daughter did this at 16-17 months old. We got her a booster chair that buckled her in, straped it to one of our kitchen chairs and just pushed her right up to the table. She was happy as a lark!
That happened at my house at just about your kid's age. Our solution was to get rid of the high chair. My oldest kid was content to sit in his booster seat at the table instead. My younger kid only wanted to sit on a regular chair at the table like his big brother.
Can you remove the tray and move the chair up to the table or buy a booster seat and let your toddler sit at the table.
It's difficult to retire all these gadgets, but maybe you could trade your high chair in for a small table and chairs? Once our children started standing up in their highchair, we retired it, rather than fight them. Our kids eat from a small table. We make sure they get nice and hungry, by limiting snacks. We serve their food on the small table and let them go wash their hands, sit and eat.

An unbending, absolute No getting up with food rule must accompany this approach. They can get up from the table, but the food stays there. And once they leave the table, the meal's over. We adopted this idea from daycare, where state law prohibits kids from walking around with food due to the chocking risks. Our table is right next to theirs so we still enjoy meals together. It seems to empower them by not relying on us to get them into and out of a confining chair. As they get older, they ask to be excused and bus their plates to the sink.

This parallels our crib approach: as soon as the child starts climbing out we put their mattress on the floor. I thought it would be a problem to keep them in bed(or sitting at the table in this case). But their tiredness/hunger manages the problem naturally.
You could consider the type of highchair which attaches to the table itself. It sounds like she wants to be closer to the two of you when she eats -- the distancing of the highchair is perhaps making her feel left out.
A 16-month old friend of ours refused to eat any way other than standing. When she visited our house for dinner once, we gave her as a present one of two booster seats that were handed down to us. She was excited to receive the seat as a present, and now uses it regularly in her own home. She still somehow connects it to our baby, and perhaps because she thinks it's his, she likes using it. Maybe this strategy will work for you.
How about a different kind of chair? Booster chair? Snappy seat (snaps onto the table)? You may want to borrow one from a friend and see whether your daughter takes to it. I know several babies who stopped wanting to use the high chair at around the same age. I'd say -- choose your battles. She just may want to be more a part of the dinner table family.
Toddlers go through stages with high chairs and everything else you want them to do. My philosophy has been to try to encourage but not to force compliance, except for a few mandatory things like the carseat where compliance is the only safe way. I held my toddler during dinners and fed him from my plate many times, and now he is back in the high chair, happily, enjoying feeding himself with his own fork. I think 15 months is too young to punish this behavior, especially by denying food. Your child is too young to remember the lesson from day to day, and too young to conceptualize that you are denying the dinner because she won't sit in the highchair. Being rigid about most things with toddlers is likely to create frustration and upset rather than a more compliant child. My advice is to roll with your child's needs and moods a bit more.
To the mother of the toddler who won't sit in her highchair: We had the same problem with our son at about the same age. One thing was he was entering a clingy phase, which just happens throughout their young life. The other was that he saw his older sister sitting in a regular chair.

We struggled with it because we did not want to let him run around with food in his mouth, and it is awkward eating with a toddler on your lap. However, we gave in on the lap when he wanted it, and he just grew out of it eventually. Also, we set up a booster chair for him, which he took to very well. That way he feels like he is sitting at the table like a big boy, rather than off in the corner in his high chair.

Also at about this age, toddlers often don't have much interest in eating, so meals for them are more about being with their parents -- only natural that your daughter wants to sit on your lap when you are sitting down for awhile! Anyway, best of luck.

The same thing happened with my son. It turned out he simply felt he was a big boy now and wanted to eat at the table with us, on real chairs as we did. We bought him a booster seat that is belted securely to the dining chair and we put the high chair away. He loves his new booster seat so much! I think your daughter may simply be ready for the next step. High chairs are for babies!f For the record, the same thing happened to my neighbor. I was recently at her house for dinner. There were several babies 15-19 months old, and she said, Is anyone's baby still eating in a high chair? It turned out none were, in this particula r group.
Our daughter also did this around 15 months. Looking back, I believe she wanted to sit at the table, rather than off to the side in the high chair. We had one of those Safety First portable high chairs that straps onto a regular chair as a booster seat and also has a tray like a high chair. She was fine once she sat at the table in the booster seat, and within a few days she would let us put the tray on the booster seat. We could also put her high chair at the table, but she never liked that (I think the chair became too much of an issue, so now she doesn't want to use it). If I were you, I would try a booster seat or using the high chair without the tray at the table with a plastic placemat. I think withholding food from a toddler would not work as a punishment. I don't think a 15 month old would remember why they are not getting food for very long, and then you have an even crankier child. It might diffuse the issue to feed her extra food at snacks and other times for a few days so if she doesn't eat much dinner it does not matter.
It might be time for a booster seat, similar to the plastic ones that are in restaurants. Our little guy seems to like being up in his booster seat right at the table with all of us with his plate, utensils and cup on the table right along with ours. Our highchair has gone into temporary storage in the basement. We're all delighted--the booster chair is a lot easier to clean. You can find used ones at Darla's on San Pablo in El Cerrito or in the secondhand section of Baby World in Oakland. Toys R Us has new ones.