If your kiddo doesn’t want to sit in their highchair or booster seat, seems uncomfortable, wants to sit on your lap for meals, or you feel like you chase them around with food since they never stop moving, these simple tips may help reset the balance.

Toddler in restaurant highchair

Toddler Mealtime Behavior

Let’s start off with the fact that once our babies and toddlers become mobile, they usually love moving! So it can be hard to get them to sit still, even for meals. (Meals in my house usually spiral pretty fast if my son sees a toy car while he’s eating!) They also have fairly short attention spans and like to get on to the next fun thing, and there are times that mealtimes don’t fall into the “fun” category. Which is to say, this phase of always wanting to go, go, go is totally normal and healthy.

  • If things seem out of whack in your house, consider:
  • Are you eating with your child or doing something else in the kitchen?
  • Is the dog running around underfoot?
  • Is your toddler in a highchair away from the table while the rest of the family is sitting closer together?
  • Is something else distracting them from focusing on their food?

Any of those things could make your toddler feel distracted or left out, so a few simple changes might help. Try sitting down and talking to your kiddo during meals. Put the dog in the other room. Move their highchair up to the table, or for older kids, consider a booster seat which may be more comfortable. Making them feel like they are part of the family in this way may help a lot to settle the overall mealtime dynamics.

Why Kids Should Sit Down for Meals and Snacks

There are a few reasons that kids should almost always be sitting down while they eat. First, the most important reason is that it greatly lowers their choking risk. Second is that it creates a routine and expectations that we eat in certain places and with certain behaviors. Third, it can greatly increase your child’s ability to focus on their food and tune into their own unique hunger and fullness—which is really, really important!

best highchairs for babiesToddler Doesn’t Like their Highchair

If your toddler doesn’t like their highchair, look at their set up. Do they have a place to rest their feet? Are they sitting upright in what looks to be a comfortable position? Does the tray press into their bellies or does it seem roomy enough. Do they seem left out of family meals? Some kids, depending on size, grow to be uncomfortable in their highchair by age 2 and need to be moved to a booster or a stool (like the Stokke Tripp Trapp).

Toddler Doesn’t Like their Booster Seat

We kept our middle kiddo in a booster seat until age 4.5, mostly because she has a tendency to move around a LOT at meals. But there came a point when she clearly was too big for it and would sit on the back or side of the booster during meals. So as with the highchair, look at the set up and see if the seat actually fits your child. For 2 and 3 year olds in a booster, I recommend the routine of strapping them in to limit squriming.

Child Prefers to Sit on a Parent’s Lap for Meals

I know this happens a lot and I think a lot of people tend to choose their battles and let this slide. I will say that if doing this limits your ability to eat your own meal, you have the right to end it. This is a no-go for me for that reason, so in our house we don’t eat on a parent’s lap (unless the kids are sick, then all rules go out the window!). If you create the routine that kids eat in their chair and stick to it, they will expect that.

toddler with snack cupChild Prefers to Keep Playing or Moving During Meals

Again here, I stress that if you decide how meals go in your house and stick to the routine, the kids will get on board. That’s not to say they won’t have feelings about it, but there’s no reason a child can’t learn to eat without toys—just like they’d do if they were in a group childcare setting or when they get to school. Give them the chance to learn and sit with them at the table to make it more fun.

How can I help my child sit at the table longer?

Little kids usually want to get up from the table when they are done eating—which is often much faster than it is for us adults—so this depends on your family. In our house, we let the kids get up when they are done in the hopes that my husband and I can talk for a few minutes without so many interruptions! If you want the kids to stay put, plan to engage them with fun questions, jokes, or music in the background.

Again, you get to choose the overall mealtime dynamics so if you want everyone to stay at the table longer, you can make that happen…if you’re realistic about the short nature of kids attention spans.

I’d love to hear any questions or additional thoughts you may have on this, so please comment below!

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Comments

  1. How do I get my kiddo to get in her chair without screaming ??

    I created a horrible habit of eating outside. She was once a great table eater now she’s awful. Won’t do it.

    1. Is there a way you can subtly shift the dynamic so she feels more in control? Let her choose where the chair goes maybe or who she sits next to? Also make sure the chair is big enough. This is a hard phase and I know advice is easier to give than it is to do in person

  2. My 2.5 year old only wants to sit on our laps for meals. He has the Stokke chair so it’s certainly got all the foot support, etc. we have tried moving his seat to a different spot at the table, tried letting him set the table, he helps grocery shop in hopes of making him excited to eat meals. For some reason this is a new thing that I thought would have passed but it’s been weeks now! We eat meals as a family and always the same items.

    1. It can be so frustrating. I guess you’d need to decide if you were willing to force the issue by being more firm about it for a few days to let him readjust to the way he needs to sit at mealtimes, which would be an option. (Like the way you’d make him hold your hand crossing the street for safety, he’d need to sit in his own chair for meals to eat). Maybe you could reassure him he can sit with you when he’s done? That you’ll be right there to help? I know this is really hard to undo.

  3. My 1yo used to love sitting in her highchair! But she was sick and everything has gone out of the window. Looking for ideas on how to get her out of my lap and back in the chair. Finger crossed that once she’s completely better it’ll be fine but not too sure about that. Any ideas on making the high chair fun or alternatives? We’ve tried her booster which she usually likes but the height doesn’t work for our table.

    1. Maybe consider other ways to reset the mealtime dynamics like putting on music or moving where her chair is to signify that this is different, we’re starting over here? Reiterate that you need to eat too and then really go overboard engaging her by talking to her or singing with her so she feels like she has your attention even though she’s not in your lap (and then hopefully things will go back to normal in time). Fingers crossed!