Tips and Tricks for Helping Your Toddler Stay Seated at the Dinner Table

Helping Your Toddler Stay Seated at the Dinner Table

By Hannah Southerland

Mom of two little boys and a wife to one handsome man.

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Hannah Southerland is a young mom of two little boys and a wife to one handsome man. She loves helping women in their marriages and motherhood and feels like community is the best way to make it through this crazy thing called life. She is the lover of all things coffee and chocolate. On the weekends you could find her snuggled on the couch watching “Fixer Upper,” or spending time with her family playing the very dramatic game of “Pictionary.”

It is dinnertime, and perhaps if you’re like me, you have started to dread dinnertime.

It isn’t matching the picture you had in your mind of what it should look like. You’ve had a couple kids and are realizing that the chaos that ensues at dinnertime is leaving you feeling overwhelmed. And tempted to just throw some chicken nuggets on a plate while you eat a resemblance of some leftovers over the kitchen sink or maybe in hiding.

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If you were to peek into my household during dinnertime a year ago, that is pretty much what you would see. After many failed nights of dinners prepared with love and my ending up at the table alone and in tears. I decided something had to change, and fast!

I started to pay attention to what the problems actually were at the table. And decided that there were three major areas where I could be doing a better job at helping my kids understand what was expected of them. Also, ways I could help keep them stay seated and behaved during meal times.

Tips for Helping Your Toddler Stay Seated at the Dinner Table:

1. The Menu

“I am not a restaurant!” mothers everywhere yell while simultaneously preparing their kids a different meal than what she has prepared for the family. While this is absolutely true, you are not a restaurant. I have since learned that there needs to be ONE thing on the table that you know your child will eat. For instance, if we are having chicken, green beans and red skinned potatoes. I will also put some yogurt or applesauce on their plate.  Because, let’s be real, our kids do have to eat, and while some kids will obey graciously and eat what we put in front of them, others will not.

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Part of the misbehavior we were having at the table was because they weren’t eating anything. They would immediately reject whatever I was serving and then want to get down. So now, I offer something that I know they will eat and that way, it trains them to know that right now is dinner time and that sitting here and conversing with the family is what is expected of them.

2. Distract, Distract, Distract!

Now that your child is finished and ready to get down from the table. Here is where it can get loud. Once our kids were done eating and wanted to get up from the table we would reengage with them. The name of the game with toddlers and young children is keeping it interesting. Our rule of thumb is until mom and dad are done eating they must stay at the table. Once we are done eating, we allow them to be excused. And then if my husband and I want to sit and chat a little longer we do.

If you have younger ones that you can’t reason with yet, bring a few toys to the table and try to distract with those for a few more minutes. Keep the conversation focused on interacting with them. This is difficult to do because you want to catch up on all of the day’s events with your spouse. But don’t lose focus on the end goal!

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3. Stay Consistent!

I also realized I wasn’t consistent. Some nights I would let them eat before my husband and I, or I would let them down when they wanted to be let down. Or I would offer them a bunch of different dinner choices. This was making my life a lot harder. So I started noting what areas I deemed most important and began being consistent in those areas. I now consistently prioritize dinner time every evening. Consistently put at least one option that they will eat on the table, consistently reinforce staying seated and practicing manners and utensils, consistently model the behavior I expect out of them at the dinner table and over time they caught on.

I was so envious of other parents at restaurants who could go out to eat with their families and their kids would sit nicely and color or talk until the food came and then they would eat their dinner, without it being a fight or a mess afterward, and when they finished and left everyone was still happy! Unlike our battle scene that happened every single time we went out, leaving us feeling defeated and embarrassed. That’s when I realized that well-behaved kids just didn’t magically happen (duh!) and that if my kids were going to ever go to a restaurant again our dinners at home needed to model how I expected them to behave out at restaurants. That is when we got serious about our dinnertimes and now I can say that going out to eat has gotten much better! Stick with it mama, you can do it!

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