26 answers

When Is It Reasonable to Expect a Child to Sit down for Dinner?

I have a soon to be 16 month old who has a horrible time sitting still long enough to eat dinner. I know that she just discovered walking and is all over the place, but when is it reasonable to expect a child to sit down and eat calmly with the rest of the family? She will sit down for several minutes when REALLY hungry (and literally just shoves a lot of food in her mouth very quickly) but her dinner time is earlier than when I can get dinner ready for the rest of the family. By the time our dinner is ready she is a woman on the go who does not have time to let us eat. I can't possibly move our dinner time any earlier. Am I expecting to much to feel like I can eat dinner without feeling very rushed and up and down the whole time? I am seeking advice on how to deal with this and at what age I should crack the whip on sitting down and being calm at dinner. Thank you!

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My two cents... You should definitely eat as a family. If someone else works later then feed that person later. My true belief is that life lessons BEGIN at the dinner table. You prepare the meal and sit down together. No TV no movies and no toys at the table! This is the first place a child learns what it means to sit still and if they do not learn it here, how hard will it be for them in school? If they do not sit with you, they do not eat. Enforce the rule of food must be eaten at the table and properly, i.e. no shoving in the food. I have often spoken to others about this rule and have always received positive feedback. Lastly, they can also be taught to help "set" the table and to "clear" it by putting their dish either in the sink or the dishwasher. These little things will go a long way. Perseverance is the key, believe me it is easier to be a teacher than a parent!!

About me: SAHM mom of five, aged 21-15, 4 boys, one girl, two oldest in service,homeschooling highschool with three youngest

I don't know if it would help you, but what we do is have the baby in her high chair at the table with us regardless of whether she's eaten or not. She might have some toys to bang on her tray, or some puffs to eat/play with or she might have her meal then, too. The goal is to have her at the table and reasonably amused. Maybe instead of it just being food time, it could be play time for her?

My kids are both go-go-go types. My daughter is 14 mo and what I did for her was give her a "snack" while I'm making dinner for the rest, then she'll actually sit with us. We also have taught her to say when she's done, and then she's allowed to get down. (My son is too, once he's eaten enough veggies!) By snack, I mean I'd give her a piece of apple, a small cracker, a carrot, etc. She still eats well at dinner, but she is done before my husband and me, usually, anyways. Spreading out her eating has also helped her eat more, which she needed as she was underweight b/c she's so active, and it's helped her sleep better at night. This is just what worked for us; I hope you find something that works well for you!

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She is way too young to expect to SIT for any length of time! And, if you aren't sitting down, why should she! Relax and enjoy her adventurous side. She is exploring all those places and things she can finally see on her own and at a different view point!! Trust me, if you don't relax now she will drive you nuts later! ENJOY her....

I think that it will be impossible for a 16 month-old child to sit quietly at the dinner table while the family eats unless they have been drugged (just kidding). Since your family's dietary needs are different from a 16 month-old, she will need to eat on a different schedule than the rest of you. I would suggest that you feed her before the family sits down for dinner. When you do all sit down for dinner then I would recommend that you put her to sit at the dinner table with a soft toy or book to occupy her time. Try to include her in the conversation as you would your other children so that she can see what is the norm in your home for dinner time. You can offer her something from the dinner meal in her own plate. This will allow her to be a part of the family dinner time while still having something that can occupy her time. We started our twins eating at the dinner table at about 12-16 months old when they had developed the skill of feeding themselves. They can now sit at the dinner table for the entire meal without requiring something to occupy their attention. They are now 2 years and 4 months old. I hope that this will help you.

I don't remember how long it took, but I looked at dinner time as a time for all of us to sit together to eat, talk and enjoy each other's company so I trained her to behave. I also held her dinner time until ours. She usually got a snack around 4 or 5 and then had dinner with us at 7. Her bed time routine starts at 8.

As much as we have to change our world and routines to accommodate babies/children, its just as important to teach them to blend into our lives as well. Dinner is non-negotiable in my home and teaching her proper dinner time behavior was very important to me. She's now 3 1/2 and I can take her to any restaurant in town.

I'm sure there are people who've had varying degrees of success with this. My husband and I only have the one child. Daycare would have the kids sit and eat together, but the whole meal would only take about 20 or so min (and even then, some of those kids could not sit still for more than 10 min.). At home, we'd eat together, but let our son go play while we finished eating. We never tried to take him to even a fast food place to eat till he was about 4 yrs old, and then he'd have the tubes and play ground to run around in while we finished. He had to finish eating first before playing and then ask to be excused. Chuck E Cheese is great for this, so are picnics. Young kids don't have the attention span (or the appetite) to sit through a long meal. Their stomachs are smaller, they eat less than we do, they finish before we do. That's why most people have a separate kids table for Thanksgiving. Trying to force them to sit still - well, we've all heard/seen screaming kids in a restaurant before and it's a great sigh of relief from everyone if an adult takes the child outside so everyone else can finish eating in peace. Some kids are more calm than others, others are more hyper - you know your own child better than anyone else. I'm a big believer in trying something when you have a reasonable shot at success (if your child can sit and concentrate on anything for more than 20 min - coloring, building with Legos, (TV does not count) etc) then try a sit down dinner, otherwise you end up frustrated trying and failing several times over before you eventually succeed.

I think dinner time is challenging for all of us. But maybe a different plan of attack might work. Try giving her a snack when you get home or close to her regular dinner time. A piece of fruit or bunny graham crackers, something she can kind of eat on the go. My daughter loves blueberries. That way she won't be full and will be willing to sit down with the rest of the family and eat dinner when you do. Just a thought. I've ried this a few times with my daughter recently and it has worked out well. My daughter is a little older. Once the excitement of walking wears off, your daughter will be more in inclined to sit down for dinner - maybe around 18 months.

My daughter who recently turned two just began sitting down for dinner with the rest of the family probably about four months ago. Up until then I was feeding her dinner before my husband and myself and we would just eat when she went to bed. I swtiched her from her high chair to a booster seat and pushed back her dinner time until 6:30 so that we can all eat together. It has worked well but she still only sits at the dinner table for about 10-12 minutes or so which I believe is a reasonable amount of time for this age. We just put some toys in the kitchen and when she is done eating we just let her run around the kitchen and play until we are finished eating. My husband and I just eat our food pretty quickly-it's not ideal but it's the best we have been able to figure out:)

I don't know if it would help you, but what we do is have the baby in her high chair at the table with us regardless of whether she's eaten or not. She might have some toys to bang on her tray, or some puffs to eat/play with or she might have her meal then, too. The goal is to have her at the table and reasonably amused. Maybe instead of it just being food time, it could be play time for her?

We give my daughter dessert, in her booster seat, while we eat dinner. We used to put her in a playpen next to the table, until she learned to climb.
M.

Our 3 yo has always eaten dinner with us and our 5 mo is learning. I always provide a snack between lunch and dinner time, but they eat dinner when we eat dinner. When they're really little, we feed them while we eat and then give them a toy to play with, but they're strapped into their high chair so they're not going anywhere. As they get older, they are put in a booster seat and strapped in so there's no leaving the table without permission. This has made it so that we can take our boys with us to any restaurant and know that they'll make it through the meal without having a meltdown.

If you want to continue to feed your daughter earlier than the rest of the family and let her run around while you eat, put her in a safe place and let her go. Let her know that you'll be right back after dinner. Put her in a playpen with some favorite toys or put gates up in a room that is safe for her to run around in.

I didn't have time to read al of the other responses, but I'm going to agree with one, and try to move her dinner back to when the rest of the family is eating by giving her a snack. She probably won't want to stay in her seat the whole time you are having dinner, but getting her used to the idea that the family eats together is a good start to good family habits. Perhaps even share some of your food to really show her that the family should be interacting and sharing at the dinner table. When my daughter is done before us, her tray is usually a mess, so the idea of crayons is out for us, but we do clean her up and let her down. She usually wants to stick around us and will walk around a bit, then come back to us, and ask to sit on a lap. So I really feel like she's getting the idea of family dinner. Good luck!

Well that all depends on who you ask and your style of having meals. My daughter in our house started setting better at meals at about 3yrs old. We are pretty relaxed and it was easier to have her eat and get up and play around the house than to fight her. At restaurants we MADE her set there. Mostly by not offering all her food right away. We would offer food in stages so she was always interested.
If you asked my mother she should have been able to do it right from the beginning. She said you make them set there kicking and screaming and they will give in and set there after a short while. I would have done that myself if my husband hadn't been in the picture but men don't handle it that well. Good luck.

I'm not sure what time your dinner is for the rest of the family, but I ran into a similar situation with my daughter. My husband got home at 6:00 and by the time we sat down to eat it was 6:15. I started feeding my daughter a snack (on the go, not sit down) between 4 and 5. I limited the snack, though, and wouldn't let her eat a whole meal. Sure, she was fussy about that at first, but I knew she wasn't starving and she eventually adjusted and wanted supper with us at 6:00. I started small with making her stay in her chair to eat with us. I did feel it was important she learned to sit with us at meals even at that early age. If you don't teach them early, it's harder to teach them later. I started small and didn't make her sit through the whole meal, but I would make her sit longer than comfortable and kept pushing back how long I made her sit. It's ok to let her fuss for a little bit. Again, she eventually got the point. =) I hope this helps! Ultimately, it's your decision on when she needs to sit through a meal and part of that only you can know; every child really is different! Good luck!

you should start to implement it now!!!!!
she wont like it, but what kid likes to be told what to do.
you need to tell her that she needs to sit up and eat dinner with the rest of the family.

you can get a couple of toys for her to play with once hse has finnished her eating.

this is the age to crack the whip, because it only gets harder. if needs be try and just give her a little snack later in the day but not too much so as not to ruin her dinner, try giving her some fruit. that way she might make it to dinner time with you.

she should also slow down on her eating or she will over eat and not know when her body is full, her brain will just keep saying she is hungary because she is not regestering everything that she eats. and that is a big cause of over weight people.

You have a lot already to evaluate on this, but I thought I would chime in. I have a nearly 19 month old son. There are nights that I cannot get dinner on the table fast enough for him, but I try to only feed him a little bit to tide him over. Perhaps, by extending her dinner time a little each day you could work towards everyone eating together?

Also, if my guy is done before we are, I strive to keep him at the table. We use crayons or books to help. I hope that by doing this, when we are at a restaurant, he will sit up to the table and not run around.

That being said, if my guy is truely done being at the table is miserable, I do let him down to go play. But, then again, I don't play with him. By now he knows that he has to entertain himself while Mommy and Daddy finish eating. If you play with her - or let her up/down, etc. - then she will not leave you alone to eat dinner at a reasonable pace.

good luck - enjoy your kiddo.... there is always tomorrow! =)

My two cents... You should definitely eat as a family. If someone else works later then feed that person later. My true belief is that life lessons BEGIN at the dinner table. You prepare the meal and sit down together. No TV no movies and no toys at the table! This is the first place a child learns what it means to sit still and if they do not learn it here, how hard will it be for them in school? If they do not sit with you, they do not eat. Enforce the rule of food must be eaten at the table and properly, i.e. no shoving in the food. I have often spoken to others about this rule and have always received positive feedback. Lastly, they can also be taught to help "set" the table and to "clear" it by putting their dish either in the sink or the dishwasher. These little things will go a long way. Perseverance is the key, believe me it is easier to be a teacher than a parent!!

About me: SAHM mom of five, aged 21-15, 4 boys, one girl, two oldest in service,homeschooling highschool with three youngest

My youngest just turned 2 in january and he still gets up from the table. What I do for him to sit down is give him a warning like if you don't sit down i am going to take your food away. And then if he gets up again I take it away until he sits down. Then if he does it a 3rd time I will throw it away.

I would try to hold her off dinner until the entire family eats. Give her an afternoon snack or ask your daycare provider to do so (after all, you are paying them half your salary). Try to start eating together as a family. If she finishes first, be prepared with crayons (if she doesn't still eat them!) or stickers and some paper. On the weekends, try to eat all of the meals together, even snacks so she learns that meal times are for the whole family to be together.

S.,
My almost 2 yr old will sit with us for the first half of our dinner time and then she will tell us she is done and wants to get down, most of the time she will go in the kids playroom and entertain hersefl but sometimes I have gone as far as putting in her favorite movie just so she will sit so I can eat. Good luck!

hey S.! trena's advice sounds exactly like what I'd say, so I second that. we give our daughter a snack of fruit and a sippy cup of milk around 5pm when my husband gets home, and by the time i have dinner ready (6pm) she's not starving and will sit with us for about 15 min. she's 20 months, and i think 15-20 min is about max they can sit at that age, but learning early is better than putting it off. just realize she's only 16 months old, and her attention span isn't exactly mature yet! :)

hi S.,
i totally get your desire to have your family together for meals, which is a great habit to acquire and keep. i also agree with other posters who believe that it's important to have a well-behaved child who can be taken out for meals without disrupting the entire establishment (don't we all want to kick parents who are oblivious to this courtesy?)
a big however.....
your daughter isn't even 2 yet. you cannot force relaxation and you cannot force 'calm.' if she's a busy bee, well good heavens, there are SO many positives to that trait, why make it into a negative?
she absolutely should sit down with you, and maybe giving her just a few bits of dinner at a time will help with the bolting. but trying to force it her to sit still and stay calm will just up everyone's blood pressure. she's so very young. let her be a toddler, let her explore in a safe place when she's finished eating, let her be herself. and while she's enjoying her wonderful safe loving world, you can relax and enjoy YOUR dinner without tears, screams or sullen resentment from an angry frustrated baby being there against her will. there's plenty of time to engage her in the joys of the family dinner table. you won't persuade her to appreciate them by trapping her there.
khairete
S.

Good luck! That is a busy age :). My youngest turned 2 in March and he still likes to get up sometimes. At home, we really try to eat all together, and give snacks when my oldest gets off the bus from kindergarten. There are some nights we don't get to eat until 7, and then all 3 of my kids sit nicely because they are hungry. I would do what others suggested and give her a small snack around 4 or so, and then she will be ready to eat with everyone else. Good luck! I know all mom's look forward to when they can have a peaceful meal!

Is there a reason your 16 month old can't eat dinner with the rest of the family? Eating alone typically isn't fun for anyone, so it's no wonder she rushes through it.

If she gets hungry before everyone else's dinner time, and that's the reason she eats earlier, maybe you can give her a small snack to get her through, and then provide her main meal with the rest of the family.

Gentle and paired-associated restraint is the answer---in this case a highchair or booster seat with a seatbelt which is always associated with the dinner table and food and nothing else. There is nothing worse than observing a toddler crawling around floors, whether at home or at a restaurant, while adults are eating! There is simply no reason for it. (and yes, we went through years where we would no sonner be seated at a restaurant when one or the other would test what we had said at home: that any acting up or screaming or trying to escape their chairs would mean we would go home immediately. So many meals were boxed for transport home just as they were being served to the table....but our boys learned and we did not ruin the meals of others!) We had two wild and wonderful boys about 18 months apart in age. From the time they were born they were at the table for dinner, one in a bouncy infant seat secured to a regular chair at the table and the other in his highchair. The infant babbled and bashed at a row of toys on the bar over the seat while we ate and giggled and 'talked' to him, and the older one ate a little of whatever he wanted and then continued to sit with us with small toys or a dessert on his tray (or later the chair pulled up to the table with no tray as we segued him to booster and then a barstool which matched our other chairs as his table chair until he was tall enough to use a regular chair), but otherwise he could be engaged and engaging. The point is, it needs to be a HABIT with an associated time, place, and set of recognizable items and roles. Although we ran busy offices and had FT job responsibilities, we always tried to be home at a reasonable hour and ate meals together. The kids could have snacks with their sitter until we arrived home, but they were not extensive---much like items others have suggested. The sitter was dimissed precisely at 5pm so that they never assumed she would be the one to feed them dinner. This family dinnertime tradition even continued through highschool; our children are now in college and I can count perhaps 10 times in their lives when they were home and did not eat the evening meal together with us....yes, even through all those years of sports and lessons and tutors etc. It takes alot of scheduling too, but I feel it was totally worth it. You need to start the training early; 16 months is a little late, but not too late, for sure.. Hopefully after a week or so of placing her in a highchair or booster with you, your child will not fight being there and will come to expect she is included; it will take more involvement when you are first setting up this plan, than later. Initially be ready with more interesting foods and desserts and little toys than you plan to employ regularly----you may not eat much yourself that first week, but you want this to be all about your daughter feeling great about being included in the meal. Tangible rewards are fine too while she gets adjusted, as well as intangible ones, like saying now that she is a big girl you are excited to have her with you for dinner. After a few weeks she will respond to the statement: "dinnertime", by toddling over to "her" chair all by herself. It will not necessarily mean that you and your husband have a relaxing time over dinner with each other at first, but in a short time you will all have connected in a very long-term and rewarding way.

I only read a few of the responses, but it looks like you have a variety of opinions here... So I'll add mine... ;) I believe what you have on your hands is a grazer. My brother's daughter was like that and I honestly thought they could have been a little more adamant about having her sit down for a meal. Until, that is, I had my own children. Holy Cow! My boys are pretty well behaved in general and usually respond wwell to being corrected, but they are grazers. My 4 1/2 year old sits really well for the whole meal, though getting him to eat a balanced meal is still a challenge. My 2 year old (just two in Feb.) will sit in his high chair to eat if he's hungry, but if he says he's all done, he simply won't sit to eat any more. If I have time, I'll let him down and let him come back to take another bite here and there for a while... like if he wants to go play after eating 1/2 his breakfast, then I'll sit and read the newspaper and he'll run back in the kitchen and take another bite of cereal again and again until he's done. In fact, there's a bowl of cereal next to the computer right now! ;) Today's a slow day. If I don't have the time, he doesn't get any more to eat.

Bottom line is, I believe it's a personality trait and fighting it may not be the best bet. I chose not to fight that battle. I also believe that my second son will soon sit for every meal just fine. He's already doing better than he did 6 months ago.

Good luck. Pick your battles. If this one means that much to you, fight it, but let something else go. It's healthier that way.

My kids are both go-go-go types. My daughter is 14 mo and what I did for her was give her a "snack" while I'm making dinner for the rest, then she'll actually sit with us. We also have taught her to say when she's done, and then she's allowed to get down. (My son is too, once he's eaten enough veggies!) By snack, I mean I'd give her a piece of apple, a small cracker, a carrot, etc. She still eats well at dinner, but she is done before my husband and me, usually, anyways. Spreading out her eating has also helped her eat more, which she needed as she was underweight b/c she's so active, and it's helped her sleep better at night. This is just what worked for us; I hope you find something that works well for you!

Yes it is reasonable. Now is he time to try and start talking about manners. Rudeness is a super pet peeve with me, so when my son started doing things, like leave the table, I would tell him it was rude and began to teach him "May I be excused" and the concept of-family eats together- that's just how it is.
She may still want to get up at this point, but in our case it dwindlled off. He would keep coming back because we were talking and he didn't want to miss anything. When that happened, he had to either sit down and join the party, or go do something else (not run around , back and forth disturbing the 'family' dinner). Set up an alternative activity for when she wants to be excused and make that the only thing she can do, other than eat dinner with the family-don't make it to special because it might backfire on you!
It all eventually worked out for up, my son is five now and has pretty decent table manners(other than discovering how much noise he can make chewing!-but we're working on that!). He always impresses guests when he comes off with a "Mom, May I be excused?". it will work out for you, she is just exuding a bit of independence, but now is the time to put the ideas how things are run in the house and family dinners are part of it.

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