How to Get Kids to Stay at the Table

When little ones graduate from a highchair to a regular chair at the table, it opens the door to a new problem: getting kids to stay sitting at the table. No longer strapped in, toddlers and preschoolers are now free to come and go as they please. Most kids this age love to push this boundary, constantly getting up from the table, returning for a bite or two, then popping back up again.

If this sounds like mealtime at your house (and it’s driving you crazy), here’s a technique with which I’ve had a lot of success. Set a rule that all meals and snacks are eaten at a table. As seen through a toddler’s or preschooler’s eyes:

Why is it that sometimes I can eat while playing. But other times I’m told that I have to stop playing and sit at a table to eat (which is bo-ring).”

Create the expectation that all meals and snacks are eaten at the table. In families who set this expectation, kids come to the table when called. They eat. And then they continue on with their day (i.e. go back to playing). Meals and snacks go much more smoothly and are less stressful because the kids aren’t constantly getting up from the table.

Does this mean that you never get to leave the house again? Absolutely not. Following this rule is especially easy in the summertime. Stop at the park bench, picnic table, or spread out a blanket and enjoy a snack.

Use similar ingenuity at indoor locations. For example, you can stop at the bench in the recreation centre foyer or use a table at the food court at the mall. The important point is to stop. Don’t feed your child in the stroller, car seat, etc. And, don’t hand out a snack while your child continues playing.

I know that it’s tempting to do so in our busy lives. But, it sets you up for more battles at meals and snacks. What seems like an efficient use of time in the immediate, actually costs you more time in the long run.

In families who establish the stop-to-eat expectation, meals and snacks are very quick. And, they are much more pleasant. When it’s meal and snack time the kids simply get down to the business of eating. After which the whole family can continue on with your day.

Bottom line: Stop, eat, then continue on.


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Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD helps moms and dads support your picky kids to get good nutrition today…and instill a life-long love of healthy eating. Find out more

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