Prev Next
Mealtime Wanderer

The Mealtime Wanderer

By Amalah

Amalah is currently on maternity leave (she had a sweet baby boy, Ike, on Wednesday). In her absence, however, she’ll be just as tethered to the computer as ever, and will be using this space to ask you — our intrepid Advice Smackdown Commenter Crew — questions. What’s been baffling her, as a parent, you may wonder? Why, she’s so glad you asked!

How Do I Teach My Toddler to Sit at the Table?

Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Internet-Wan Kenobi,

Not long after his second birthday, Ezra began to strenuously object to sitting in a high chair or booster seat. At home, at restaurants, wherever. He was a BIG BOY and he was going to sit like one, even if it meant his chin barely cleared the table. And you know, I allowed it, and we gradually stopped even bothering with the high chair during meals at home or asking for one when we went out to eat.

In fact, the high chair became almost a “punishment” for not behaving at meals — which, DUH, started happening quite a bit, after he was granted SO MUCH TERRIBLE FREEDOM. If he got up and wandered around or threw food, or anything like that, he was put back in the high chair.

That seemed to work, until he figured out how to unbuckle the high chair straps and climb out, whenever he wanted. Now, mealtimes are basically Toddler Anarchy, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to restore order. Mostly, the problem is that Ezra refuses to stay in his seat until he is finished eating. He wants to get up after a bite or two and walk around, or just climb on and off the chair (and on and off and on and off and etc.). Then occasionally he’ll come back, eat a bit more, then wander off again.

I’m not a fan of this grazing-style of eating for several reasons: 1) he’s a typically messy toddler eater, so every surface he touches after leaving the table gets COATED in sticky food residue, like pasta sauce and syrup and dipping condiments, 2) it drags mealtimes out by INFINITY, and he’s usually whining about cold, icky-tasting food by the end, 3) this behavior REALLY doesn’t translate well at restaurants or friends’ homes and 4) I AM A STICKLER FOR BASIC TABLE MANNERS. STOP DRIVING ME CRAZY.

So…what to DO, oh Internet? Like I said, we’ve tried instituting a return to the high chair or booster seat, but he simply unbuckles himself and gets out, like, “nice try, mooooommmm.” I’ve tried taking his plate away as soon as he gets up and signals that he’s “done,” but he’s called that bluff enough times with tears over being hunnnnngry 10 minutes later and I have a really hard time not caving and giving it back. We’ve modeled good behavior (and Noah does too — he never gets up until he’s all done and ready to clear the table) and shown that he gets no attention once he’s up and doing laps around the living room for no particular reason. We’ve called him back, counted to three, sent him to time-out for disobeying, you name it.

He’s such a GOOD eater, at least food-variety-wise, that I never expected mealtimes to suddenly devolve into a power struggle (like they did with Noah, the super-picky one), yet…here we are. Completely locked in one over his refusal to park his butt on a chair for 10 straight minutes to eat the food he’s clearly such a fan of without having half of it streaked all over the walls and sofa.

Help me and I will love you forever, oh, whatever, you know I already do, BUT STILL,
Amy (Amalah)

Leave your answer/idea/suggestion/general sympathy in the comments!

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Sonia

    June 3, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Once my kids are up from the table, they are done.  I don’t care if they say they are still huuuungry; they won’t starve between dinner and breakfast.  It’s so hard to be consistent, but it’s worked.  They sit and eat dinner with the rest of us.  My younger one is a bit older than Ezra (he’s 3.5), but even he knows that he’s got to sit in his chair to eat at mealtime.  My dad used to do “cheek checks” to make sure we were sitting properly, and I’ve done that with my boys.  They think it’s hysterical that I talk about butts at the table, and the slight naughtiness factor for some reason makes them want to put their cheeks on the seats.

    Do what you did with Noah: give him a set amount of time to eat his dinner.  Whether he finishes it or not, dinner is still over in X minutes.  Then he helps you clean up the mess he made instead of doing whatever fun thing you had planned for after dinner.  Same with lunch and breakfast: the meal lasts only so long, and if he eats properly/with manners/whatever he gets to play, if he’s trailed food everywhere he has to clean up the mess.  Natural consequences, baby!

  • Julia

    June 3, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Congratulations on the newest addition to your family! For space reasons, we put the highchair away for the next kid and use the Phil & Ted’s “MeToo” for mealtimes. The prospect of a steep drop tends to keep her in the chair. For breakfast, a more laissez faire occasion, we just let her eat it at the coffee table. It gives us a little more credibility when we say “Dinner is serious business” when it’s an affair that we’re all expected to behave through. With the chair she can’t escape and the “We’re all sitting here” we sometimes get some peace. If she does something like throw her plate to the floor in protest, she has to clean it up (we help) and that’s it for dinner. I agree that starvation is unlikely to occur overnight.

    Also? Two doesn’t last forever. *phew!*

  • Wallydraigle

    June 3, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I think taking his plate away and holding firm is the way to go. I know it feels so wrong, to deny your hungry kid food. But with a foodie like Ezra, I bet it won’t take long for the lesson to sink in.
    I had a different problem with my daughters. They both used to be human vacuum cleaners. The older stopped eating almost entirely when we moved, and the younger one did when I went away for a week for a memorial service. I don’t short-order cook, but I’ve been attempting to put things on the table that I know they’ll enjoy, along with the main meal, and their palettes were narrowing more and more every day. I got so sick of it about a week ago that I just cracked down. I put a green vegetable in everything. They got NO breads or grains of any sort with meals, except for the quesadillas I made with gobs of spinach inside. There were no snacks between meals.
    Something magical happened. On the third day, they started eating. The older one is still pretty picky, but she eats a reasonable amount of food and will now try most things. The younger one is back to being a little Hoover. She will actually turn down a treat in favor of salad. Gobs and gobs of salad.
    So, much as it sucks, they really do survive being hungry for a couple of days. They’ll be a bit crankier, of course, but if you can stick it out, it’s quite effective, and it works fast. Those teary faces are hard to handle (especially having just had a baby, I’m sure!), but it’s worth it.

  • Wallydraigle

    June 3, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Uh. That would be “palates.” I knew that word looked wrong. I should stop posting while I’m still sleepy in the morning.

  • Sarah T

    June 3, 2011 at 11:54 am

    My only thought is maybe try a harness? Ours comes with adaptor loops to attach it to a chair (it’s great as a backup when there are no high chairs or boosters available), it works with a big boy chair – and it fastens in back. Let’s see Houdini Jr. get out of that!

  • natalie

    June 3, 2011 at 11:55 am

    If you ever figure this out let me know..we go out to eat and I see other 2 to 3 year old sitting an eating while I am busy tring to pin down my 2.5 year old or pulling her out from under the table. This happens at home, friends and family’s houses, everywhere and she is a horrible, picky eater (I blame that on my mom who watches her during the day while I am at work). Nothing has worked for us so we have just stopped paying attention to her when she gets up and leaves. Food is ‘over’ then and we try not to make a big deal of it but I still find myself BEGGING her to eat. The Doc also just said she is too thin…argh! She is trying to kill me, I swear!

  • Sarah T

    June 3, 2011 at 11:56 am

    And by ” harness” I mean my son’ toddler reins-type body straps btw, not anything more sinister! (Just realised it looked a bit …odd…)

  • Stephanie

    June 3, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I have a feeling this will be a struggle for us too! In fact, we stopped using the high chair in favor of our daughter (who’s almost 2) sitting at a little table next to ours. This did not work. She was up and roaming around just like Ezra. So now we have her in a booster, and it’s great. She loves being at the table with us, and it’s really implemented family-time dinners.
    We are firm when it comes to food – once she starts playing with her food, we take the plate away and it’s done. I think being firm and consistent is the way to go. Oh and maybe that timer thing you used for Noah (as someone suggested above). But yeah, I think if you’re having that problem everywhere, including when you’re not at home, it’s time to lay down the law. Good luck!

  • Kim

    June 3, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I offer Cheerios as a backup. You don’t like dinner? You may eat Cheerios. You decided to get down and play instead of eat? You might be offered Cheerios, you might not. (My kid doesn’t like milk in her cereal, so it’s even more draconian.) Sometimes I mix it up with an offer of an apple or carrots. It takes 21 days for a kid to starve, so a couple of nights going hungry by his own choice won’t hurt him

  • laura

    June 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    it’s not easy, but when his butt leaves that chair you take away his food. after a few too-small meals he’ll get with the program.

    he won’t starve, kids are willful but not that crazy.

    (says the lady who has a 9 month old that will hold his breath till he turns blue ’cause STUBBORN BABY gah)

    big, fat, happy congrats to you again!

  • Janice

    June 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Congratulations on litte Ike! He is adorable 🙂 I’ve used an adult belt in place of straps on seats when the straps were missing. Maybe using a belt with the buckle in the back where he can’t reach it will help keep him in the high chair or seat when you need him to stay put.

  • Rebecca

    June 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    While we struggle getting her to stay at the table and finish her meal, we bought the IKEA INGOLF
    Junior chair for her to have at the dinner table. It places our daughter at the right height at the kitchen table and looks just like a regular chair so she feels like she is at the big table with the rest of us. Highly reccommend for the small investment.

  • Amy

    June 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    What if you wrapped a big fat piece of velcro around the buckles so he can’t undo them?

  • Hodgepodge

    June 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I agree with everyone who says you just have to stick it out. My youngest is the same age as Ezra and we went through this, too – now we just say he must stay in his chair until he is completely finished, because once he gets down, mealtime is over.

    A couple of nights of tantrums and lo, the problem was gone as if it had never happened.

  • Susan

    June 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    My 17 month old is similar. He would be so happy if we’d let him walk around the dining table and just feed him bites off our plates when he feels like coming by. He just wants to be free, man, free. Sometimes I can get him to stay in the high chair for meals but the days he wants to explore he will move his food around on the tray and then throw it down to the dog waiting below. That’s when meal time is over. He is not given anymore to eat after that. At restaurants, to preserve peace and give me a chance to shovel something in my own mouth, he might get cheerios or a toy if he’s not interested in the main meal but if that doesn’t work, he goes to the car with one of us. I do get that nagging “he needs to eat” feeling sometimes but frankly he is always fine and either has eaten enough to get through the night or eats a lot at breakfast time the next day.

  • Nicole

    June 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Yeah, you’re going to have to stick it out. In the meantime, have you tried giving him a regular chair WITHOUT a booster to sit on? My toddler likes to sit like the grown ups (or those of us pretending to be grown ups anyways). We even let her stand on the chair if she wants. And if he wants to get up, well, then he’s done, right?

  • Beth

    June 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Okay, I’m probably the minority here, but I have a grazer. And right now, my priority is that she consumes food more than table manners because she’s a string bean. So…my solution? Make him meals of only non sticky, non saucy foods. If he sits, he can have the yummy Indian food the rest of the family is eating, but if his bottom leaves that seat, wipe his hands and face and away goes the good stuff and he gets…whatever not very messy, room temp food you have-sauce-less pasta, bread, a couple of slices of apple, whatever. I’ll bet you can use his love of good food will over come his desire to wander pretty quickly.

  • Angela

    June 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    We feel your pain. Our 5 year old is finally getting it, but it is still an issue sometimes. We try to be consistent and send him to wash his hands and go wait in his room till dinner is finished, but usually we just give warning after warning, nagnagnagnag! (Gah! I roll my eyes at myself!) But damn, it’s hard when he’s such a picky eater anyway and I can’t see how he grows at all.

    Now with our twins, our focus is often on them, so he probably gets away with it more, and yet, we’ve also been able to play the “be a good example for your sisters” card too. He likes sitting next to one of them and talking with her, showing her how to eat, giving her bits of food, etc. Of course, they’re one now, so they do sit at the table. Maybe it’ll be a while before you can try that.

    When he was younger I really wanted a Kaboost for him but we didn’t ever get one. Maybe that would help some?

    I’ll be reading up on the comments for ideas though!

  • Jessica Sides

    June 3, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    We have a rule, that everyone sits at the table until we’re all done. That means I get up and pick up my 2 year old if he walks off, it was a harrowing couple of weeks with screaming fits and all but now he sits and waits for us all to be done. He won’t -eat- but that’s alright he never really has.

  • Pogita

    June 3, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I’m with Beth n this one. Our 2 year old gets to graze on the non-messy stuff that maybe he doesn’t like so much as the food at the table. Mostly he chooses to eat with us. If not then he has some less desirable, non-messy, chopped into tiny pieces food on the low dresser we have in the kitchen. He can eat that if he gets hungry. Avoid the struggle and the guilt.

  • Olivia

    June 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    My 2 yr old still sits in the highchair, but she does try to climb out if she doesn’t like the meal we are having. I say let him graze on non-messy foods, and if he wants the good stuff he’ll learn to sit still for it.

  • Linden

    June 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Our son is almost three, and he’s refused a high chair or booster for over a year now.  He won’t even eat from a CHAIR at our kitchen table; he demands to sit on a bar stool!  I know what you mean about going back to the high chair being out of the question.  There is zero way our son would submit to that indignity, especially now that his sister eats in the little chair with straps.

    So, as you might guess, we have a similar problem to yours.  Our son is also a good eater, but likes to get up and down during meals.  I won’t say we have solved the problem, but it doesn’t seem like a huge issue to me so I’ll tell you what we do:

    We typically entice him to the table by putting something he’s sure to like on his plate along with the rest of the meal.  Something like crackers or some Pirate Booty.  Once he starts eating and realizes he’s hungry, he keeps going.

    If he gets up from the table while we’re eating, we just ignore him.  Sometimes he’ll go play on his own for a bit and then come back to eat.  Sometimes he’s done eating.  Usually, he’d rather talk with us than be ignored, so he’ll come back or stay at the table with us.  The sticky food problem doesn’t really happen for us because our son HATES having messy hands and will insist on a hand/face wipe before leaving the table.

    We can’t have rules like “you must sit at the table” because that would not work with our son’s extremely oppositional personality.  There would be a lot of screaming and mealtime would be extremely unpleasant.  Plus, he is too strong for us to physically force him to stay.

    Once our son realized that he didn’t get attention from leaving the table, he stopped that behavior for the most part and sits with us.

    Once dinner is done, it’s done.  He can have milk before bed, but no more food.

    Good luck!

  • Dani

    June 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    We had a slightly different problem (and currently the same problem with my daughter -2.5yo doll) he used to graze at the table FOREVER. Our solution and what we do with our younger one is that we set a time limit for dinner. 20 minutes to eat dinner. I set the timer in the kitchen and at 20 minutes, food is picked up and put away.
    This seems to work okay for both of them. With my son, it forces him to stop talking and focus on eating instead of taking hours (seriously we once had a dinner lasting 2 hrs with him), and it stops our daughter from wandering away because NO food is given after dinner.

  • Vivian

    June 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    That sounds frustrating. You know he’s hungry because he keeps coming back to have a couple more bites. But you can’t have dinner last forever, you want to clean up and move on with your day.

    I really think you might have to just take away the plate of food after a set time, a time that’s ALWAYS the same length. After that time, the food is gone for the night. Sorry if you’re hungry, pal, maybe you should just sit and eat your supper tomorrow. 

    I know that setting that limit and keeping it–EVEN IF HE GETS UP (meaning that if it’s twenty minutes for dinner, he has twenty minutes, even if his butt leaves the seat) is hard because it doesn’t feel like it’ll make a difference. But start telling him every time he gets up, he loses a minute.  Sorry if you didn’t get your dinner, you would have had twenty minutes.

    That or you could just make him some non messy food and offer it to him on the go and say; “Sorry you don’t get this yummy food. You won’t keep your booty in the chair. Oh well, Maybe some other time.” and see if he’ll opt to sit down. 

  • jodifur

    June 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Is he going to eat lunch at preschool next year?  Or even snack?  Because I’m pretty sure they won’t let him do this.  Maybe let school solve the problem.  And I’m a big believer when you get up from the table you are done.  Michael likes to rush through meals so he can go play and my answer is when you get up you are done.  Sorry if you are hungry 10 minutes later.  There is another meal at breakfast.

    I know, I’m mean.

  • JCF

    June 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Our now 3.5 year old was the same way right around 2. We ended up getting a Kaboost, which just boosts the regular chair up so that the kid can reach the table. It is also harder for them to climb down from the chair once they’re up so high. It helped, but we still had to be really consistent and making him sit until he’s done. We now have a 3.5 yo and a 2 yo, and they both have to stay at the table until they’re done, and then asked to be excused when they want to get down. If they play with food, it is gone. If they get down from the table, it is gone. it took a bit of getting used to, but they’re pretty good about it now.

  • Chris

    June 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    I promise he won’t stave. It’s just like sleep training – it sucks for a few days and then they get it. Once he’s down from the table, maybe with a warning or two the first couple of days, that’s it. He’ll learn really fast. I also like the timer idea if you try the first thing for a few days and it really doesn’t take. Don’t forget you can give him Pediasure or something similar if you really start getting worried about nutrition while you’re trying to do this. You really don’t want him grazing on easy, non-messy foods EVERY dinner, right? Probably less nutritious in the long run that missing a couple dinners.

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Am I a horrible person for suggesting a dog crate next to the dinner table? (KIDDING. But seriously – if any of these suggestions work, you must share – I’m in the same boat with my 2yo.)

  • Kirsten

    June 4, 2011 at 4:24 am

    Can you DIY a five point harness for the highchair from some webbing and have it buckle in the back?

  • Kris

    June 4, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I’m with everyone who says he won’t starve, set a time limit,and then just take away the food. My daughter will get up from the table, try to play, whatnot, and then come over and ask for bites from our plate. We don’t let her, and she cries that she’s hungry, and we tell her she should have eaten. She is almost 3.

    So, for the kids, once they leave the table, that meal is over, period. Wait for snacktime, or the next meal. If their eating is absolutely atrocious then we cut out the snacks.

    They won’t starve, and eventually they will eat.

    You would think, however, that my daughter would learn. We sit at a picnic table since that is what we use for a dining room table, and she has a booster attached to it, but we ended up removing the straps because we got tired of her screaming as soon as we buckled her in. Ok, anyhow, someti,es she is moving and playing, and misbehaving so bad that she ends up slipping, and she’ll go WHOOSH under the table. It’s happened more times than it should have.

  • emilie

    June 4, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    We like the combo of a kaboost and mylittleseat (both are at and amazon). The kaboost fits under an adult chair and hoists it up, so no more chins grazing the tabletop. The mylittleseat is a super cute harness that fits onto the chair (there are buckles though…maybe velcro over the buckles?). Both are portable as well.

  • rose

    June 5, 2011 at 12:03 am

    we had a very similar problem with our 2yr boy too. If he hopped down from the table he was asked if he was finished, if ‘yes’ his hands were wiped and the food taken away. if he returned wanting more, he had to apologies and ask nicely for the food. this was only allowed to happen once per meal. we would also offer to help him eat if he seemed to still be hungry but struggling to keep feeding himself.. especially if tired (but not until he had made a real effort himself).
    We also have made sure we have family conversions, we go around everyone at the table asking what their favorite thing about their day was. This seems to take the focus away from the food and the eating becomes automatic while we talk.
    We also light a candle which the children take turns to blow out when everyone has finished dinner. then we all know dinner is complete and they can help clear the table and then play. It all seems to be working at the moment and hopefully will continue to!

  • Emily

    June 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    From what I’ve learned about kids so far, the best solution is the ‘if you get up, you’re done’ solution. It seems to me that if you just offer snacky type non-messy food as the alternative to the ‘real food’, that you’re going to have a kid that starts avoiding real food knowing that they’ll get snacky food. And just strapping them in with harder-to-undo straps just seems to ignore the issue. He’s old enough to learn that ‘you don’t get up until you’re done and if you get up.. well, food is gone’. And please please please, don’t ‘just let the school deal with it next year’…. poor teachers. They have a rough enough job without having to deal with things that parents just don’t want to fix.

  • Leanne

    June 6, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Same, same, SAME issue here!  It’s the slippery slope of, “Oh hey!  Look how cute he is thinking he’s so grown up and awww, he’s so happy sitting there so proud of himself,” and then it doesn’t take long and it’s a power struggle that you didn’t even realize was being set up.  We’ve tried the route of  taking his plate away and letting him “starve” until morning and you know what?  We ended up with an increasingly unhappy almost two year old for a week and a bit, mostly because he was HUNGRY and waking up in the middle of the night again and making our evenings absolutely miserable.  So nope, that doesn’t work for everybody, in the same way that sleep training doesn’t work for everybody because some kids are born with an extra strong sense of independence and perseverance.  So now we’re back to square one and we’re just continuing to remind and trying to teach, wiping his hands every time he leaves the table (which he doesn’t like much).  I want to show him the same respect that we’re asking him to show us, which does not include strapping a screaming, fighting child into a harness system at the table. He’ll get it one day, on his own accord.

    The thing is, our oldest child is a respectful, delightful 5 year old and I’ve concluded that I’m going to have to trust in our parenting and the fact that phases and stages don’t last forever.  And that I really don’t have the right answer for anything but everyday is a new day to figure something out.

    Congrats on beautiful Ike!  When you’ve figured out the whole Ezra food situation, please let us know!!

  • annie

    June 6, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Yeah, I’d say consistency is key, and I promise you will only have 1-2 mealtimes of tears – Zah is so smart and such a food hound, he will learn so quickly.  It’s important and reasonable to teach a 2 yo to sit at the table for meals.  If you feel that straps will help the situation, you can try any of the great ideas people have offered.  But if you feel it’s more of a power struggle, I don’t think the newest straps are going to help you.  Here’s the key to overcoming the guilt associated with the “let him be hungry”…you are NOT withholding food at all.  You are giving him the choice of eating at the table.  You are OFFERING the food.  He is choosing to wander/not eat it.  If he is hungry later, you don’t have to be mean/angry/I told you so…you can be empathetic.  “Oh, I know you feel hungry now, because you chose not to eat dinner at the table.  It’s hard to be hungry.  I know I feel sad when I don’t fuel my body well.  We will have our next meal at x o’clock, and you can choose to sit down and eat as much as you need.”

  • Auntie G

    June 6, 2011 at 10:36 am

    We have similar issues with our 33-month old and have for about…3 months now. He’s not nearly as good an eater as Ezra, either, so it IS hard…but basically, we feel it’s a stage YET we also have a need for him to be restaurant-appropriate on a semi-regular basis, so it’s tough. Theo won’t sit in any kind of booster or highchair any more. At home, we use a…luggage strap to keep him in his chair on the nights he’s particularly awful. It’s WAY too hard for him to unbuckle. He goes to preschool where he does have to stay seated, and this helps somewhat. We do take food away after confirming with him that he’s done if he gets out of his chair. And (this may seem contradictory, and…heck, it probably is), when I can, I let him have grazing meals but NOT at the dining room table. When Daddy’s at rehearsal, Mommy and Theo can have a casual dinner while watching a Disney movie. Or if the weather’s nice, we eat out on the deck and that helps. So he’s slowly getting better at dining room table = sit in chair, restaurant = sit in chair, and other times we can be more casual. Finally, I do try to restrict messy foods to times he must sit still. Good luck. He really will outgrow it (I am counting on this, anyway).

  • gizella

    June 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    we offer dinner with everyone (breakfast is just with me, lunch is at the coffee table for her) for a set amount of time. If my kid wanders off, dinner is over for her and that is that. I don’t leave it around. I know about grazing etc, but my kid is 3.5…now she knows that food is available at certain times for dinner, and where to get it. Its hard, and she’s gone hungry sometimes, but it seems to be working.

  • Danielle

    June 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Our 2.5 year old is a wanderer, too. We let him leave the table and return, but draw the line at his leaving the kitchen. We have a gate across the kitchen doorway and we leave it closed during mealtimes. We have a couple toys (blocks, a dish of dry beans) in the kitchen, and he can get up and play with those, but he cannot leave during mealtimes to go watch TV or play with the rest of his toys. He also may not bring food away from the table to eat. If he wants to eat, he has to be sitting down at the table. Usually, if he gets up, he plays with his limited toy options briefly and then gets bored and lonely and comes back to the table to eat. As for restaurants, we pretty much have to limit our options to places with booths. He sits on the inside, and we don’t let him get out. That pretty much does it, but it does limit your dining-out options, probably too much for foodies like you all.

  • Trista

    June 6, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    I agree with many of the others…if you get up? you’re done. He won’t starve and he won’t be harmed by crying later for food. When he does, just say “I’m sorry you didn’t stay in your seat and finish dinner. I know you are hungry but dinner is finished. Perhaps tomorrow you’ll do better.”
    Once he figures out that he can’t eat if he gets up, you’ll both be much happier. Plus he’ll gain some respect for his mama…”Wow, she really means what she says! Guess I better listen!”

  • Heidi

    June 7, 2011 at 12:05 am

    I have a friend who used the belt method (a belt to tether toddler to chair, with buckle behind the seat back where toddler couldn’t reach it). It worked well for her, though It did lead to one very uncomfortable moment at a restaurant, when the toddler attempted to roam, to which Mom responded, “Do I need to get the belt?” Of course, she then had to expand upon this question loudly, just to make sure everyone who thought she beat her child with a belt would have their fears allayed.

    I’m having the same problem as you, with my son who’s about a week younger than Ezra. I’d been letting him sit at a regular chair, but now he’s back in his booster, which he hasn’t figured out how to unlatch. There’s the added benefit that he is now learning to say, “I’m done, Mama, may I be excused?” when he wants me to unlatch him, instead of just walking away from the table. Before putting him back in the booster, I too considered just making his food go away when he wandered, but I couldn’t make myself do it for the same reasons you mentioned.

  • Hillary

    June 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Congratulations on Ike! Love his name and he’s adorable. There are great suggestions here and I think you will be able to make some changes that should lead you to success. Lest you doubt your instincts, I think it was your advice that said choking is much more likely if kids are wandering around eating. So, you may want to add the ‘it is safer’ rationale when you insist on sitting down at the table to eat.

  • Amy in StL

    June 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Does your highchair have a divided leg area? If so, you just tie his shoelaces together and there is no more getting up. It works wonders for me when I babysat my nieces and had to take them out for meals or to the store. She didn’t like it at first, but couldn’t get out.

  • Alissa

    June 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Yeah, you don’t want my advice.  My 2.5 year old went to time out during dinner the other day for playing with his bib.  If he tried to get down from his chair, I am pretty sure my head would explode…

  • Susan

    June 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    I’m guessing no one really wants to hear my advice either – but…As a mom of 6 – and 9 grands I might add, I am appalled that this is even an issue.

    These kids are 2 – who is the boss here?
    What ever happened to making your child mind? Dinner means sit at the table – or no dinner, tv, toys, etc. if you do not. I raised my 6 this way and it worked for me.

  • Caitlyn

    June 13, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    my brother did some of this, and with him it was sensory issues, though much milder than the ones Noah has.  Three things that worked well for us:

    – letting him sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair.  Ezra’s probably too small for that.

    – putting one of these under his chair:
    it let him bounce like the ball, but he couldn’t fall over or anything.  It has a textured side and a smooth side, and he would pick with one he wanted

    – a “lap animal” – a stuffed animal filled with beans to make it heavy and provide some extra input.  Noah might have something that would help.  If not, I’ve made them myself, or you can buy lap pads online.

  • Lacey

    June 14, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I am A) so glad I found your site last night and B) that you asked this question as I find myself in a similar boat. I’ve just been succumbing to it because, frankly, at 34w pregnant, I just want some peace. But then I think, who the hell wants to tackle this issue while simultaneously readjusting to life with a newborn? To top it off, my husband is probably going to be deploying ten days postpartum.

    It’s enough to make me scream (and some days, I do. Eesh.), but I guess I should get off my prego butt and start doing something about it. Le sigh.

  • Melitz

    June 18, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Random sidenote – I am super impressed that Noah manages to sit through a meal! My dh and oldest (now 10) both have ADHD and hells bells neither can sit through a meal to save their lives. Never really have been able to. I think the answer is deciding whether this is a battle you wish to fight, if it REALLY matters to you, and if you decide it does, then you already know what to do. I did the “take the plate away” once a few years back when I decided I couldn’t stand 3/4 of my family getting up and wandering around (and possibly break dancing, wrestling, “just going to do one thing..” etc!) every single meal. It did work for a while, but they are back to wandering most meals these days. Since I now realize a lot of it is attributable to the ADHD (my youngest most likely has it to, le sigh is right), I’ve mostly given up. Not worth fighting anymore, but I do have the luxury of pointing them to the dustbuster now that they are older!

  • Dina Rose

    July 1, 2011 at 8:05 am

    You have to strike a comprise with your child.  Right now he’s completely running the show.  The other model—take his food away and he’ll learn—means you’re completely running the show.  Neither model works that well.
    For starters, you have to understand that toddlers have very little attention for sitting at the table.  He wants to play, to explore, to live his best life!  You should let him eat some of his food on the run.  That way if he doesn’t eat a lot when you insist he sit at the table you won’t fear his imminent death from starvation.
    Because he’s messy give him the most non-spreadable food you can think of (bits of sandwich cut up in a baggie aren’t that bad, apple slices can’t be smushed too much) and then consider letting him eat the messy on-the-run foods when you’re at the playground…yogurt, watermelon, grapes, etc.
    Finally, you have to teach him two things: when he’s at the table he can’t throw food, and if he’s in the high chair he doesn’t have to be bucked in but he has to stay put.  How do you teach a child not to throw food? Say, “When you throw food I think you’re done. Are you done?” If he answers yes, then put him down. If he answers no, then tell tell him he can stay and eat but if he throws again you’ll know he’s done.  Then follow through.  Once he’s down, you can ask him in a few minutes if he wants to try sitting at the table again? If he says yes, let him back at the table, but if he begins throwing food go through the steps from the beginning: When you throw food I think you’re done. Are you?  The first two or three times you do this it might take awhile, but this is the only way to respectfully teach your child what he is communicating. (And since you keep letting him come back to the table you don’t have to worry about hunger. If he keeps throwing, know he is NOT hungry.)
    Finding the middle ground is always the key.

  • Marion

    September 15, 2013 at 5:04 am

    Have a consistent method of punishment for any misbehaviour Amalah. With a kid this young, the Thinking Corner is perfect. If you haven’t used it before, you will need to be consistent, and it will make for a few (very) long dinners but this investment WILL pay off IF you are willing to stick with it. First time DS gets up off his seat – take him by the arm, bend down to his level and say “(DS’s name), getting down from the table without asking is naughty. If you misbehave again, you will go to the thinking corner.” The second time he does it – no second chances – put him in the Thinking corner. If he refuses to walk to the corner, pick him up and take him, and when you put him in the corner, remind him why he is there, and then leave him – for one minute for each year of his age, so if he’s two, he stays for two minutes. IF he gets up from the corner, put him straight back. First time he gets up, tell him every time he gets up, the timer will start all over again. Second time he gets up and each time after that, put him back and say nothing. Ignore anything rude he says. It will probably take ages the first few times you have to do this, but he should get the message eventually. When he stays put for the right amount of time, go over to him and say, “You were put in the Thinking corner because you didn’t eat your dinner and you got down from the table without asking. That’s naughty and I want an apology.” If he won’t apologise, leave him on the corner until he will. If he does, hug him and let him back up, but make him go back and finish his dinner – sitting at the table properly. With older children, having a Thinking Room or simply putting them in their rooms would possibly be better, and this discipline technique can work for any number of scenarios.