Written by: Jessica Diamond MPH, RDN
Is your kid trying to wriggle out of their high chair at every opportunity or resisting getting into their high chair in the first place? Or do you turn your back for one second only to find they’ve stood up from their chair?
This is so common! The first thing to remember is that it’s our job to decide where meals happen. This is something we, as adults, get to decide for our babies and toddlers, and when we make that decision for them, it makes meals more structured and more enjoyable for everyone. (Check out this handout about raising intuitive eaters for more info about the Division of Responsibility and why it’s so important for caregivers to decide the what, where, and when of meals.)
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’ve got a wriggler on your hands:
- Don’t sit them in their chair too early: Babies and younger kids have really short attention spans and can typically sit for a meal for only 5-15 minutes. So, make sure they’re not getting into the chair too soon before they eat.
- Get some energy out before mealtime: Babies and toddlers are so curious and involved in play that it’s hard for them to slow their body down to sit and eat. With this in mind, try having them do something really active before the meal so they can get that energy out, like jumping up and down or running a little. You can prepare them by saying, “We are going to do 10 jumps and then it’s time to climb up in your chair.”
- Get them out of their chair when they’re all done: If they haven’t eaten as much as you expected, but they decide the meal is over, that’s fine! They will make up for it at subsequent meals and snacks. Just have them check in with their belly beforehand: “If you’re all done, that’s fine, but the next meal or snack won’t be until…”
- Ensure they are comfortable: This is key! Make sure your child isn’t uncomfortable in their chair. This is such a common reason for babies and toddlers to resist sitting! Make sure they have good posture, are not slouched, and have good foot support. Check out this article on what to consider when picking out a high chair. Our favorite high chair is super versatile, and it grows with your child. It starts as a high chair, converts into a toddler seat, and then becomes an ergonomic chair for older children. How cool is that?!
- Resist the temptation to let them graze: At some point, your kid will want to graze. Maybe they’ll take a couple bites, go play, come back for a couple more bites, go back to play, etc. Although they may beg you to let them do this (and sometimes it’s more convenient for us!), having structured meals where they stay “tushy down,” eat “as much or as little as they want,” and then end the meal before playing is just crucial: it teaches them to eat mindfully and minimizes mealtime meltdowns. When kids are grazing, they are distracted and probably not listening to their hunger and fullness cues. Structured and consistent mealtimes will help them eat more intuitively, which means calmer meals in the short term and healthier eating habits in the long run.
- Change the scenery: As your child enters toddlerhood, it’s great to have a home base, like a high chair or toddler chair, for mealtimes, but it can also be fun to have them eat in novel locations, like picnic style or in a learning tower. This brings some exciting newness to meals and will help them stay engaged while eating.
And with any new issue that arises, especially with eating, we always suggest asking yourself, “Why are they doing it?” Approaching these kinds of problems with curiosity keeps us calm and helps us figure out solutions that actually work for your specific situation!
More to Chew On
Check out some of our other resources for how to bring harmony back to mealtimes and raise an independent and intuitive eater!
And if you have a baby, take our Feeding your Baby Solids Course. It covers all the topics and answers questions you didn’t even know you had. The best part is it’s all broken down into short, easy-to-understand videos for you to watch on your own time and at your own pace, even while doing the dishes. It will help you thrive when feeding your little one, we promise! For babies 3+ months old.