Tips to get your toddler to sit and eat at the table!
If you just got done chasing your toddler all over the house to sit back down at the dinner table and finish eating those two green beans left on the plate, we feel you. Toddlers are full of energy, just starting to discover the power of walking and running and bursting with curiosity. Sitting still is boring, and at mealtimes, even more so! Even if your child isn’t a picky eater, establishing a dinner table routine can be challenging. There might be protests about what they’re supposed to eat, wanting to get up in five minutes, tantrums about not having toys or screens and general restlessness and fidgety behaviour.
While there are some things that can help, you know that parenting rarely goes by a rule book and flexibility is key. So aiming for a routine but not a perfect one, is a great place to start.
Involve your child
On a mission to discover the world, toddlers love making decisions and take great pride in a task they can do by themselves. Take your little ones grocery shopping and let them choose their veggies. Guide them as they do a little simple stirring, ask them to pick which plates to eat on and help set the table. If there’s a toy cookery set in the house, set your child up near you and get another ‘dish’ going! When you’re ready to eat, ask your child to tell everyone how they helped with the meal. And even if things get messy (and they will!), allow kids to feed themselves and explore the food properly. All of these seemingly small involvements will give them that sense of achievement they like and make the meal engaging from beginning to end.
Set an example
It’s no secret that at this age, your child looks up to you and you’re pretty much the hero. Make use of this before the teenage years arrive! Keep your phone away while you’re eating, ask your child about the day, did anything interesting happen, what do they think of the meal they’re eating? If you feel dinner should last at least 20 minutes (research shows that this duration works well), make sure you and other adults at the table stay seated as well, eating without rushing and with attention to the food.
Avoid screens at the table
We’ve all done this because nothing calms a fussy toddler and a stressed out parent at mealtimes like Peppa Pig playing at the table! But you know that it’s just a temporary fix and when it becomes a habit, it’s incredibly difficult to put a stop to it. So instead of relying on the screen for distractions and bribes to finish that piece of broccoli, allow a small, non-intrusive toy that your child picks. A stuffed toy or even paper and a couple of crayons to keep them busy if needed. Once this toy is chosen, there is no leaving the table till the meal is done. This is a more productive mid-ground between the passiveness of screens and running away from the table because they’re bored.
Combine new and familiar food
Nothing sends toddlers scurrying like food they’ve never seen before. To keep them interested, add something they already know and love along with it. If you’re trying a new vegetable, also keep a piece of fruit they enjoy, for example. Insist that they must take at least a bite of the new food item, before rejecting it completely and because there is that familiar piece of fruit, the urge to revolt will be lower.
Get the timing right
By the time the toddler stage arrives, parents have already established a rhythm as far as meal timings go. But as energy increases, kids also like to snack, so make sure you’re factoring that in and either adjusting meal times, or changing what snacks are given. Forcing them to sit down and eat when they’re not hungry is never successful, no matter how many strategies you try. And if there’s a lot of restlessness before dinner, get some jumping, running, dancing done before you ask them to catch their breath and sit down.
Pick a good chair
If your toddler is new to eating at the table with the family, start them off in their high chair because a dining chair will be uncomfortable. Our Cocoon works great for this because it fits perfectly with a standard dining table, making your child feel very much a part of dinner time. It comes with its own large feeding tray which can be cleaned easily and is perfect to practice self-feeding. Whichever chair you pick, it needs to be at the appropriate height with some foot support so that little toddler legs are not dangling, which leads to a lot of restlessness. Think of this the same way you would for an office chair for yourself!
Have realistic expectations
Despite doing all of this more, your child might still leave the table, throw a tantrum, hate what’s for dinner. It happens to the best of us! How long one child might be able to sit without fidgeting won’t be the same for another. Appetites might vary depending on how the day went. In short, there are lots of variables and as parents, we’re doing our best through them. Set aside one day a week for a ‘break’, where you eat on the floor for fun or out in the garden so that neither you nor your child are feeling the pressure to stick to the table routine. In fact, a break helps to come back to a routine much more easily.
We hope these tips helped! How do you handle restlessness at the dinner table? Share your unique ideas with us in the comments below!