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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!

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.

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  • PB & J

    August 31, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    This happened to us EXACTLY at the same time as you. It also seemed to collide/coincide with the time I was slowly weaning my then 17 month old son. He eventually snapped out of it around 19 months, BUT…BUT we never relented by letting him wander around or sit in the grownup chair on his own. We took off his high chair tray and let him join us at the table at his own setting, and I vowed to avoid letting him eat alone. I changed around my work schedule to ensure that I would try to make a homecooked meal where the whole family sat together for him to observe mealtime practices and rituals. My mom friends who relented and let their kids go free range with food in hand all over the kitchen continue to struggle with meal time battles, focus, and manners. I picked my battles and let him eat breakfast on my lap and on days that he had day care all day, he got to sit on my lap for dinner. I think it has much to do with the push/pull of independence and dependence, particularly around weaning. He wanted to be close to me and associate mealtimes with me (I mean, I WAS his source of food fulltime/parttime for quite awhile). When he got sick, he would want to sit on my lap. Eventually, he was over it and wanted to be a big boy and sit on his own. This also coincided with more dexterity with his hands for self feeding (like scooping with spoons, etc). We never relented on manners though. We continued to feed him normal foods, expected civilized “conversation” and interaction at the table, allowed him to “toast” us to start dinner, etc. No joke, people marvel and come up to us at restaurants when they observe our 27 month old sitting and enjoying his meals with us. Just last night at sushi, two separate families did this. As a side note, my husband is French and we do observe and practice many of the mealtime practices from Bringing up Bebe/French Kids Eat Everything/French Twist. It’s perhaps cultural on his end to have expectations that the mealtime is sacred and a place to enjoy all things food and conviviality. As an American, I do see lots of discrepancy on how important or dismissive people are with regards to food and toddlers. This is THE BEST time to introduce the exciting world of food. How many 2 year olds prefer Cambozola cheese, salmon roe, spinach with shallot vinaigrette, and artichokes with garlic butter sauce on random days? Best of luck! It’s a stage, but stick to it.

  • Myriam

    August 31, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    We never had a high chair anyway, just a booster. I like Amy’s advice, but I’m a little more harcore. If you refuse to eat in your chair, it’s ok, you won’t eat! It’s your choice and that’s ok. 

  • Emily

    August 31, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    I would recommend a youth chair….we use one that my dad made, but they have some at IKEA now too.  It’s heavy enough that they can’t really push away from the table, but it’s more of a “real chair” look and gets them up to the right height.  Our son has used his since he was about the same age as your daughter.

    Here’s one from IKEA:
    (I would recommend that you try to find one with a place for her feet)

  • Traci

    August 31, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    I’m a big fan of grow with me chairs like the keekaroo and stokke. My 16 month can now climb in and out of his chair by himself which he loves. Having a footrest at the right height is good for the body and goes a long way toward cutting down wiggles.  There are lots of developmental benefits. We got our keekaroo used on craigslist. I had 3 and 4 year old boys over and they were so excited to sit in his chair which I adjusted for them.  They were stoked to have a real chair fit just for them! The best thing is that he won’t ever outgrow it. It will eventually be a desk chair for his room and we’ll always have a kid chair on hand without having to store a high chair.  Definitely an investment, but worth it, especially if you buy used!

    • Astrid

      August 31, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      I was just coming here to recommend the same thing. We just have on of the cheaper plastic IKEA junior chairs and our four year old still uses it and it’s awesome.

  • Nicole

    August 31, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Both of my kids have gone through this phase. They do not want to sit in their booster or eat from their own plate. They will totally sit in my lap and eat the same food off of my plate. If I had time or energy, I’d look it up, but I’d hazard a guess it’s a bit of a holdover from when eating unknown things could kill you. It will pass. Try to hang on to what is most important to you about mealtime in the meantime. Lots of luck!

  • S

    August 31, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    My daughter did this. We got rid of the high chair to a friend. She did not like being strapped into the booster or anything else. She sits at a little table with her brother. If she wanders with food she gets a warning and it is taken away until she sits. She was the same kid that climbed out of the crib and over the baby gate. She does not want anything that is for a baby. Good news, she potty trained early because she didn’t like diapers.

  • Autumn

    September 1, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Agree with Traci about the Keekaroo.  Expensive but very worth it, as it looks like furniture and grows with a kid.  We just transitioned our 4 year old out of it so we can hide a bit so it won’t be “hers” when the baby is ready for it. She sat better in the Keekaroo vs her new oxo booster due to the foot rest, now she’s very wiggley.  It’s capable of holding up to 250 lbs, but you would need a very narrow behind to fit in it.

    We allow our daughter to get out of the chair during the meal only for a potty trip.  If she’s very wiggly and not eating, we remind her “tummies to the table” which they use at school.  

  • Karen

    September 1, 2015 at 12:16 am

    All three of my kids have gone through this lap-sitting phase around the same age, maybe until about age 2. With the first kid we died on our sword over not doing it and eventually relented. The battles were so annoying. With the second we let it happen occasionally. Now we don’t care. The stress level has gone way down. All of them sit at the table perfectly fine once they outgrow the phase because eventually you start to say, “no, actually we aren’t doing that anymore” and it’s not q big deal. We were both working when the first two were young and I always attributed it to them needing a little extra connection after being in childcare all day.

  • The Rejection of the High Chair

    September 1, 2015 at 9:02 am

    […] Read the full article here: When Your Toddler Says No More High Chair […]

  • PB & J

    September 1, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    Wanted to also chime in that we also have the cheapo IKEA chair

  • S

    September 3, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    “Short phase?” Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!! Nope. No. Your child will only become increasingly more obnoxious with ridiculous battles for the next few years. But yeah, try the IKEA chairs.

  • Corinne

    September 5, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    “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.”

    Or a Con Law book if your spouse teaches Con Law and has a dozen different editions of these enormous books.  Yeah, we definitely went through a phase of HATING the high chair and we didn’t have a booster.