To get a toddler to sit at the table to eat, firstly, make mealtimes sociable, relaxed and fun.
Try to have one meal a day as a family so your toddler associates eating with family time.
If you have a fussy eater, stop commenting on what they’re eating. Just have nice conversations and friendly chatter at the meal table with your toddler.
If your toddler wants to get down say: ‘Just eat anything else you want to keep your tummy full, and then when you get down the meal is over.’
And then put the food in the bin or in a plastic bowl that your toddler can pick at later.
If your toddler needs to eat separately, if you can, sit down with them and talk. This is a lovely time to connect with your toddler. Try not to tell your toddler to eat up quickly, or keep wiping up the mess.
Instead talk, play games, read books and sing songs. If you really can’t spare the time to sit with them, don’t sit them in front of the TV while they eat. Try to interact and chat with them while you get on with jobs in the kitchen.

Secondly set a timer and increase the time gradually.
Toddlers aren’t developmentally ready to sit still for long periods. If it helps set a timer, and tell your toddler that when the timer goes off then they CAN get down if they want.
To start with set it for five minutes. And gradually increase that to ten minutes. Don’t make a big fuss when they get down. Check that they’ve had enough, wipe their face and hands and then you enjoy the rest of the meal with whoever’s left at the table.

Finally, help your toddler understand what you want them to do at mealtimes by asking questions.
Explain what you’d like to happen and then ask questions like…

  • ‘So how long will you sit at the table tonight? Yes, when the timer rings you CAN get down if you want.’
  • ‘Why do you sit at the table? That’s right so we can all eat together.’
  • ‘What can you eat before the meal? Yes, you can always have carrot sticks or vegetables.’
  • ‘What do we do when we eat? Yes, that’s family time!’
  • ‘And what happens when you get down? That’s right, that’s the end of the meal. ‘
  • ‘And if you’re hungry later what can you eat? Yes, the rest of your dinner, or a piece of bread. That’s right!’

So the 3 tips to get your toddler to sit at the table to eat are:

  1. Make mealtimes sociable, relaxed and fun.
  2. Set a timer and increase the time gradually.
  3. Help your toddler understand what you want them to do at mealtimes by asking questions.

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The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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