Q: My 18 month old daughter will not sit still for meals. She refuses to be put in her high chair anymore so I puchasd a child-sized table and chair set for her to sit at. She will sit at the table for a few bites but then gets up to run around. I've tried to sit with her and praise her for eating at the table, but it usually ends up with just me at the table and her running around the living room and coming over for occasional bites. Any suggestions?
A: You’re doing all the right things! It’s a great idea to sit down with your daughter at a child-sized table. It’s also wise to praise her when she sits down to eat. Still, at 18 months, most children just aren’t developmentally ready to stay seated at the table and eat for very long. As you know, toddlers tend to be very active, and they like running around far more than sitting still. And since they have tiny stomachs which can’t hold very much food at once, they tend to be grazers, and they do best eating a few small meals and snacks throughout the day. The real issue might be that your daughter isn’t really all that hungry after she’s eaten a few bites, so she may not feel compelled to stay seated at the table after her hunger is satisfied.
My youngest son was always on the go as a toddler, and I had the same experience with him. I found that sometimes, I could get him to sit down at the table for more than five minutes if I read to him as long as he stayed seated. If that didn’t work on a particular day, I tried not to worry too much about it. I’d just keep his food on the table and let him do a “fly-by,” grabbing a bite of food whenever he remembered it was there for him. I don’t think it’s a good idea to force toddlers to stay seated by restraining them in their high chairs or to try to keep them mesmerized with their favorite television show.
As your daughter continues to grow and her stomach gets a bit bigger, she’ll be hungry for larger meals and snacks. As she begins to eat more, she’ll naturally stay seated at the table longer. At the same time, she’ll become more interested in interacting with you and the rest of the family, and that will help make it more fun for her to stay at the table as well. In the meantime, I think you should keep doing what you’re doing—sitting down to eat with her at her little table and praising her when she joins you.