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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!

Published June 3, 2011. Last updated January 31, 2018.
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 [email protected].

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.

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