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When Your Toddler Say No More High Chair!

When Your Toddler Say No More High Chair!

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

I’ve been a huge fan of your common-sense “good enough” parenting advice since I found your Weekly Pregnancy Calendar. I have looked through the Smackdown questions but I can’t find one related to this phase we seem to be in the middle of with our 17-month old daughter (only child). In the past week, she has straight up refused to go in her high chair at home. My mom keeps her while we work and she has been putting up a little more fight than usual there, too (although it is characteristic for her to behave much better for my mom than for me… we like to push the limits around here!).

At supper time last night, my husband managed to get her into her high chair in spite of going stiff as a board and screaming her head off. She continued to scream for the next 10 minutes or so until I just couldn’t take it anymore (my throat was starting to hurt from listening to her). While she was strapped in, we attempted to go about supper as usual, but she didn’t seem to take the hint. She stopped screaming and ate her supper just fine when I took her out of the high chair and put her in my lap.

Our high chair gives us the option to remove the tray and push her up to the table, which we did try last night thinking that maybe she just wanted to sit “at the table” like us, instead of eating from her tray. That does not appear to be the case. Up until now, she has always been a great eater and easily transitioned from purees to finger foods, preferring the control she has with them. We have recently started putting a toddler fork and/or spoon on her high chair tray with her food to give her the option of using a utensil, but so far have not made a big deal out of using them. That’s literally the ONLY thing we have changed in her recent dining experience. We try very hard to all sit down to eat the same foods together, but when it’s obvious that she can’t wait, we’ll let her eat before us while our supper finishes cooking. She has been cutting a tooth, but they haven’t really affected her like this in the past.

I’m hoping that this is just a short phase that will be over by the time you get to answer this, but I would love to hear your thoughts. I’m all about choosing my battles, but getting her to continue forward with building independence seems pretty important, so I hate to keep giving in to her demands to sit in my lap during meal times. Any tips on what we can do to resolve/avoid some of this chaos and get back to our normal, not-screamy suppers?

Thanks in advance!

So two things you DEFINITELY do not want at the dinner table: a toddler screaming her head off in a high chair, or a toddler eating her meals on your lap.

Lots of young toddlers reject the high chair at some point — it cramps their newfound independence, makes them feel different/distant from parents or siblings, or they’ve correctly identified it as a “baby” thing and I NOT A BABY. I JUST SCREAM MY FOOL HEAD OFF LIKE ONE.

It is definitely not a battle to fight. But the concession needs to be an alternative other than your lap.

For some babies/toddlers, removing the tray or lowering the seat so they can eat off the table “like mom or dad” is enough. But as you learned, sometimes that trick isn’t enough. But there are some other alternatives:

1) A dining booster seat attached to a regular chair. We had one that included a strap and a tray, but you might want to consider a simpler, strap-free model like this one, or even this. Strapping her in might cause some carry-over from her hatred of being “trapped” in the high chair, and as long as she’s seated close to you or your husband, she’ll be perfectly safe sitting on a regular chair.

2) If she’s resistant to sit in/on anything other than a “regular” grown-up chair, you can try a Kaboost under-chair booster. We had one of these and it worked great for our toddler who REFUUUUUUSED to sit anywhere but in a regular chair sans booster, even though his chin barely cleared the table.

3) Alternatively, if you don’t want to buy any additional gear, you can boost her up old-school style on a phone book (WHY DO THEY STILL MAKE THOSE?) or a thick sturdy cushion. Anything to get her able to eat comfortably off the table while in a chair that does not contain YOUR lap/butt.

4) For non-family meals that she typically eats solo, a separate toddler/kids table and chair set is a great option. We had one in our kitchen for many, many years for breakfast, lunch or snack times when I didn’t feel like dirtying up our nice dining table (and upholstered dining chairs, we were SO STUPID to ever buy upholstered dining chairs).  These are also great to have for coloring/Play-Doh or playdate snack times. And you can probably find one on Freecycle or Craigslist.

So yeah. Time to ditch the high chair — it’s okay, it had a good run. I’m going to lay the blame on good old classic toddler independence, rather than teething or the addition of utensils. She just doesn’t want to be confined while she eats.

Yes, she’ll have the freedom to get up and leave the table. That is also okay, if slightly terrifying in theory. She’s old enough to start introducing other Satter Method basics, namely: Dinner is over once you leave the table. Once you leave the table to go play/wander, your food goes away. So if you’re hungry, you stay in your seat. It’s another mealtime battle to fight, but it’s a more worthy one than trying to cram a stiff-as-a-board screaming child into a high chair she’s probably close to outgrowing anyway. Above all else: Make mealtimes pleasant! Remove the demon high chair torture device! Welcome to the big kids’ table, little one!

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice[at]gmail[dot]com.

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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