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How can I get my 3 year old to sit down and eat dinner with the family?
We have tried throwing away his food the first time he doesn't want it. Should we give him more than one chance to eat dinner? We try to eat all together.
It’s not uncommon for toddlers and small children to not want to sit still to eat a meal. They’re increasingly mobile and want to explore and learn about their surroundings, which is perfectly normal and appropriate. Sitting down for a meal is simply not something many small children want to do, especially for extended periods of time. While it may seem like a good idea, throwing your child’s food away the first time he refuses to sit down with the family to have dinner is likely to make your child feel badly and to feel as though he's being punished. This type of negative reinforcement is unlikely to make your child want to eat and enjoy dinner with the rest of the family. Instead, try your best to keep mealtimes positive. Avoid distractions like answering telephones, watching TV, or using electronic devices. And try to gently encourage your toddler to get involved in meal preparation. For example, you can place plastic bowls and cups on a low shelf or in a low drawer and ask your child to help to set the table. You can also ask him to do other age-appropriate tasks such as putting napkins on the table. Also, there’s nothing wrong with allowing your child to have a book and some crayons and either paper or a placemat to draw on during meals. Put his meal on the table, and tell him it’s dinnertime. If he doesn’t want to sit right away, have the rest of the family sit together and enjoy the meal. As long as he’s safe, don’t call attention to the fact that he’s not sitting with you. If he does decide to sit at the dinner table, don't expect him to do so for long periods of time. As he gets older, he'll be able to sit for longer periods of time without needing to get up, so try your best to be patient (although I know that's easier said than done). Eventually, your child will likely want to sit with the rest of the family, but only if most mealtimes are fun, enjoyable, and stress-free experiences.
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.