Sitting at the Table

Updated on February 18, 2015
C.H. asks from Decatur, IL
24 answers

My 4 y.o. has a difficult time sitting at the table for dinner. I have tried buckling her in the booster seat, but she can unbuckle it. We have tried taking a long sleeve t-shirt and tying it around her and the chair to keep her in (like the ones they sell on zulily), but she just unties this too. We have tried nothing and let her sit like a big girl but this too doesn't help. Is there a "kid proof" booster seat?

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answers from Jacksonville on

How long are you expecting her to sit? That would be helpful to know. Some children struggle with being still, whether at the dinner table or elsewhere. Some learn the self control needed to do this for short periods earlier than others, and some have issues that essentially prevent it altogether (a child with ADHD hyperactive, for example).

But at age 4, I would hope she could sit to actually eat her meal. I would NOT expect a child that age to sit for 10 minutes before they were allowed to begin eating, nor expect them to sit longer than it took for the to consume their own meal (maybe 5-7 minutes). IF they can sit and converse a bit after they have eaten, fine. But most are done. So rather than strapping the in a chair, teach them the appropriate way to be excused from the table when they have finished their meal. And how to carry their plate to the kitchen to help with clean-up. And next to go wash their hands.

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answers from Dallas on

I never would tie my child to a chair or anything else for that matter. How would you like to be restrained forcefully and without your consent?

You are butting heads with a child who is an at age where they don't sit still for long periods of time and your need to control.

Pick your battles... You'll face far worse than a child sitting exactly as you like when you like.

Get creative, make dinner time fun! Think outside the box.

Good luck!

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Is it that she cannot stay in her seat, or that she does not want to stay in the seat.does she eat her meal before she wants down?

Remember 4 year olds have 4 minute attentilion span.
Keep her engaged at the table. Speak with her. Have her serve you and dad portions. Allow her to pass the bread, the small bowl of vegetables.

Turn off the Tv so she is not tempted to hop up.

We used to tell stories, we told jokes, we asked each other about the day, about plans. We made sure she was included. Once our daughter was really finished eating, she could get down from the table , but she was reminded no more food. Or she was allowed to quietly look at books or color at the table, while we finished our meal.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Please do not tie or restrain her. Having done this already, you have reinforced the idea that sitting is something you are going to make a battle over. What you wish to have happen can only be accomplished by learning, maturing and cooperation.

Other posters will offer great ideas about how to accept what she can now do and how to increase her ability to sustain sitting. I hope you try some of them.

From my experience, I suggest that you provide her with a comfortable chair with arms to lean on and a box to support her feet, to balance on.

All my best.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You want to tie her into a chair to force her to sit at the table?
Is this a hill you want to die on?
Little kids are not great at sitting still for long periods of time.
Have the food ready, have people sit down, get the eating done - 20 to 30 minutes tops - and if she's finished before everyone else, then excuse her from the table or allow her to play quietly with something so she's not disturbing others who are eating.
Approach the problem sideways - if you try it head on you are just going to butt heads with each other.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Why would you tie her up at the table? If she can't behave just send her to her room and finish your meal in peace. Calmly tell her she's welcome to come back and join you when she's ready to actually sit down and eat. Four is plenty old enough to understand this. If you don't believe me go into any preschool at mealtime and watch them have a meal.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

4 y/o is too OLD to be strapped/tied/buckled into anything for meal time.

In one more year she will be expected to attend school!

Words. Use your words.
Kids are easy to entertain once we get to know their personalitities! Engage her with your words like you would an adult. Meal times where we gather in a group are to be shared. That's the custom. Teach her that part. It might mean talking about bubbles, sparkles, babies, books &/or what's for dessert...heck it could be anything! Just engage her, she'll catch on!

~I'd be willing to wager she feels like it's a game at this point. You strap her in & chase her around & all the talk about her getting out of everything you strap her too? Just stop with all that.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I was just at a seminar a few weeks ago where the presenter used a child who sounds just like your kiddo. She said that it is because the child doesn't know where her/his body is in space. This is called proprioception. She also said that this can affect a lot of other things in life, and that some occupational therapy would really help to settle the kiddo. Maybe this is something you should look into?

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answers from San Francisco on

My youngest is wildly ADHD, and even at almost 10 years old now, she has a hard time sitting down for a long time. That being said, when she was this age, my rule was that if she was hungry, she had to sit down and eat. Once she got up, her mealtime was done, and she had to go sit in her room until everyone was done with dinner. I do not serve snacks after dinner; if she got hungry after dinner, too bad. She should have eaten dinner with the rest of us in her chair like a civilized person.

It only took a time or two of having her dinner taken away, and being hungry later, for her to learn that her best course of action was to sit down in her chair and eat her dinner. And like I said, she's a kid who has a REALLY hard time sitting still, ever, for any reason. So I am confident your daughter can learn this, too. Do not restrain her. Just dismiss her from the table if she won't sit down. There, done!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

You can also put the food away until she is hungry. But no snacks, no non-dinenr foods. No TV during dinner time, although you don't have to punish her for not eating. She'll come back. Just put the same food back out. She will not starve at age 4. If there's a tantrum, don't give it to that. Eating is done at the table, and that's that. You can't force her to eat, but yo udon't have to give in and let her eat wherever she wants.

One of the problems with strong restraints is that it turns into a battle around food, and that's hard to undo later on.

But if you think there's an underlying issues as suggested below, you can investigate that.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I would not at this point tie her into a chair. It will make food into a battle ground and you absolutly do not want that. Give her no snacks after maybe 2 pm. you don't say what time dinner is but I would get food to be on a regular schedule. so breakfast at 7 or 8 or whatever time you choose, lunch a couple hours after that. small snack (dixie cup of goldfish crackers, an apple cut up etc but small amount) then nothing else til dinner. when she gets down remind her once that this is dinner and when she gets down she is done. and stick to it. when she gets down put her food away and don't pull it out again. if you do a snack before bed heat up her dinner. and be done with it. no skipping supper and then eating ice cream etc. just to be on the same page here you are giving her child size portions right? a 4 year old should be getting a protien amount the size of her fist. fruits and veggies a couple table spoons of each. carb (slice of bread, scoop of rice, spoon of noodles) and milk. so all together maybe about a cup and half of food. that is what she needs. if she is eating that then she is eating the correct amount. so no need to force more down her.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I didn't see this as a big deal.
Why is this a "deal" at all?
Get her a little table & chair set placed nearby & let her eat & come & go as she pleases.
I refused to ruin our dinners & fight this battle.
It's fine, really. My 12 year old is dinner table worthy with the best of them at the nicest of restaurants. And has been for a long time.
It's a phase. 4 year olds are busy. It's not their nature to sit for a long time.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Utica on

My 3 yr old is like this and it drives me bonkers because she is constantly up and down in and out of her seat. She has gotten her arm stuck, her feet stuck, fallen out of her seat, spilled name it. What we have tried recently is if she gets caught doing one of the 100's of things listed above we warn her 1-2 times then she loses her chair and must stand for the remainder of the meal. I get that kids have a hard time sitting still for too long but she has hurt herself too many times to let it continue. We never have the TV on at meal time and they are only asked to get to the table once dinner is served but my kids still have a hard time sitting still for more than 5 mins. You are not alone =)
Good luck

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answers from Portland on

My best friend (who likes rules and order) used to ruin every meal time by chasing her little one around the table, trying to get him to sit down ... he is 9 today and has the worst table manners of any kid I know! lovely kid, but they just freaked the poor boy out and he missed out on just learning how to eat nicely with the family.

The only reason I restrained my babies and toddlers at meal time was to stop them from slipping out of their high chairs or booster seats.

My kids never sat for long at the table at that age. For meals like lunch, I used to let them eat at their little kid table which made eating fun. They would chat and laugh and eat together.

For suppers, we sat together at the big table, but once they were done, they got down. I didn't let them come and go at supper time - they could make it through, but no way did I expect them to sit until my husband and I were done. And besides, I liked that time to ourselves at the end of the meal without kiddos.

I would lose the restraints - she may now have come to associate meal time with being tied up. Make mealtime fun so she actually wants to join in.

We approached teaching manners to kids more in terms of socialization - teaching them to eat with their mouths closed, engage in conversation, that sort of thing. Not necessarily getting kids to be able to do what grown ups can do.

You could always use a reward system instead .. if she makes it through the first part of the meal, she can get down to go play quietly ...

Hope that helps :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

call me crazy, but i think tying your kid up to make her eat is setting yourself up for lifelong problems.
how about telling her she must sit to eat, and when she's done she must excuse herself courteously and get down?
and no more eating when she does so.
forcing kids to sit quietly during what seems an interminable adult meal isn't really helpful on any level.
she's only 4.

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answers from Washington DC on

Rather than strap her in, teach her manners. Tell her she needs to sit and eat and then she can ask to be excused. Call her to the table when her plate is ready. It is not a matter of sitting at the table, but STAYING at the table, which is manners over ability. Explain simply that this is dinner time, she needs to eat, and if she disturbs people or keeps getting up, then she's done and no snacks on the go or dessert later. Consider it practice for dining outside of your home.

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answers from Washington DC on

You tie her into a chair to eat? Really? That's a bad idea on so many levels.

Put her food in front of her and let her eat. When she gets up, dinner is over. Tell her that in advance, and assuming you have stuck to your word since she was smaller she will listen. If you go back and forth then this will mean nothing. She will only be hungry one or two times before she learns meal time is meal time and not play time.

Or if she isn't sitting maybe she isn't hungry. Don't make her eat if she isn't hungry - or cut out snacks.

Just please don't tie her down for one more meal, or anything at all.

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answers from St. Louis on

Turn everything off in the house, the TVs, the lights, everything, and they sit until they are done eating. Only then can they do anything else.

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answers from Las Vegas on

does she sit still for any length of time and then undo it? asking because too often, adults try and make kids act like adults... meaning.... they want them to sit at a table for time longer than should be expected of a young person. Example. I saw a woman wanting her 3 year old to sit still for an hour.. that is just too long, if you know your daughter has a 15 minute or 20 minute time limit, then I think you should go with that... when my son was little and hungry (which is when he was placed in his highchair) that's when we put him in it.. otherwise, never before.. kids that young don't understand things like.. the adults want to talk for awhile before and while they eat.. or the wait/tress will bring the food in a little while.. all kids know is purpose.. I have hungry. I need to eat, when I am done.. I need to get on with things..
If at this time it's kinda of a problem taking her to restaurants because she won't sit still. then I would hold off going on...Or do like we did.. we knew our son had a time limit and therefore, we worked around it.. I never expected him to sit as long as an adult not at that age..

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

Booster straps are meant for safety, so a toddler doesn't take a tumble out of the chair. They are not meant to restrain a preschooler. You must stop trying to tie her down.

Consider if your mealtimes might be scheduled when she isn't hungry. Or maybe she's eating a bit then needs to be excused. She doesn't need to sit as long as the adults do.

Make a rule that eating is always done at the table. If she leaves the table she can't take food with her. When she is hungry, she will sit. Make this rule apply for every meal at home, and even for snacks.

Don't get yourself all bothered about sitting at the table when she isn't eating, because you'll just ensure that dinnertime with the family is a horrid thing to avoid in the future. Just sit and enjoy your meal while it is still hot.

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answers from New York on

We've got written rules for meal times-
We posted them at grandmas house. (in part to keep grandma from babying our son, and in part to serve as a reminder for him). He is really proud of knowing the rules. He is proud of enforcing the rules. It has helped.

The rules are-
1. wash your hands before the meal.
2. everybody sits in their own seat.
3. only feed yourself.
4. sit patiently and quietly until everyone is done eating.
5. if you eat well, you may ask for dessert.
6. wash your hands after you are finished eating.

See if something similar works for you.
DS is 4. We put these rules in place when he was 3 years old.

A kitchen step stool tends to work well as a kid seat. It is sturdy, and gives them a back, and a good place to steady their feet.

F. B.

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answers from Dallas on

I have a 4 yr old DD and it is hard to get her to sit too. I don't use a booster or anything anymore, she needs to learn to sit for 5-10 minutes without those aids. I won't say it is without messes and consequences ;) My DD plays around and has fallen numerous times, tried to push her chair backward, spills food, etc but after a few weeks of STERN warnings and timeouts and occasionally taking her food away, she has it under control and can sit for 10-20 minute dinner. If she winds up wandering around, I give her one warning to get back into her seat until excused and she usually does. I give her a small treat after dinner if she eats good and sits and uses manners. If not, no treat. That usually keeps it in check now.
If your DD doesn't respond to that, I would just give her a choice: to eat you must sit. No sit, no eat, no playtime / TV time after dinner. She isn't going to starve - after a couple nights of getting dinner taken away, she will learn to sit and things will calm down. Good luck!

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Now you're trying to teach her manners and sitting down during the meal is part of that. That's good. It can be hard, especially if this is a new concept for her. If she's been allowed to be up and running around then she doesn't want to sit. If this has been a long struggle, it's time to bump it up.

You strap her in where she can't undo them.

You swat her hiney and tell her it's meal time and she is not allowed to leave the table until she is finished eating.

You let her get up and then toss her food in the trash and make her feel hungry, really hungry and remind her she got up from the table instead of eating. To me food is not something to battle over but I NEVER EVER allow kids to get up from the table with food. They NEVER EVER eat when an adult is not in the room with them.

I have a lot of years in child care and I have tossed more than one child over my arms to get food unstuck from their throats so I'm waaaaaaay more of a capitol "B" about kids sitting at the table with an adult when they have any sort of food.

When a child is choking is is quiet, silent, nothing. You just notice it got quiet and look around and see them turning blue. So heck no, kids DO NOT get up from my table if they have food.

If she is not chewing or taking food with her and you don't care that she's up then let her go. BUT if you really want to teach her to sit and eat on command then you have to be almost mean about it.

Love and Logic says that if a child never feels what hunger is they don't learn that food makes hunger go away. Food is just something they eat. If they feel hungry and realize food makes that go away then they learn to appreciate food.

Now, that all said.

Battling over food.

My granddaughter is one of the pickiest kids in the world when it comes to food. She will NOT eat when she gets hungry enough. She does NOT eat what I put in front of her on command. If she is forced into taking bites of food she doesn't like she gags and starts puking. She misses days and days in kindergarten because the lunch room supervisor decided she had to be taught a lesson. She tell her to eat her food and she'd say "No, Thank you". Then the lady would bully her into taking a bite by not letting her leave the table with the rest of the kids and make her take a bite. She'd gag and start puking. So they'd send her to the office and make me take off work to come get her. They said she wouldn't eat because she was sick.

I asked her, in front of the principle, if she felt bad and she said no, she wanted to go to class. I'd ask her why she puked and she'd say, every time, the lady made me eat food I didn't like. I finally got the whole story and told the school that they needed to allow kids to say they were done and that lady needed to stop bothering her. Guess what, once that lady went back in the kitchen my granddaughter never threw up again at school.

To this day she will go hungry for the whole day if there isn't anything she likes on the menu.

If you are not fixing foods your child likes to eat then she is not eating because she doesn't want to eat what you're serving. If she isn't getting to choose at least something that she does like and getting encouraged to try new things she will be going hungry and not wanting to sit and eat.

With kids age is a factor too. If she's 14 months she's not going to sit more than a moment or two. If she's 4 and is just being stubborn then she gets swatted and sat down promptly on her hiney each and every time she gets up. Age makes a huge difference. If the battle is over the item being served then there are compromises you can do where meal time is a happier place.



answers from Chicago on

My four year old is the same way. I couldn't put him in a booster or anything because he would fall etc. BUT, I took the booster away and he was somewhat better on his knees in a regular chair. I will say, often we spend a huge chunk of our dinner time telling him to sit in his chair instead of being under the table, on his belly on the chair etc. He knocks over milk, spills food and all the rest. He is approaching 5 now and we have been working iwth him as best we can...there has been progress. I would recommend just trying to work with her and remind her of teh rules as often as you need to and keep in mind that it will get better with age! All the best to you!

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