Skip to content

5 Tips If Your Toddler Won’t Sit to Eat

A toddler and an earthworm have something in common. They both squirm around a lot. So when approaching your ‘squirming ball of cuteness,’ how do you go about teaching certain habits. Remember, their attention span is also at work squirming about.

It’s a simple request from your point of view. Simply sit down and eat your dinner. Yeah right. If your toddler has ideas other than sitting and eating, don’t despair.

Mealtime is just like anything else. It will be a learned behavior. At one time long ago, you were the toddler, and your parents did the same.

Given all the commotion going on with a toddler, it will be hard at times to gain their cooperation. Just keep in mind you are the one they trust and who they turn to when learning new activities.

When you get right down to it, all you need is a few ideas to get you started in the right direction. And here they are, some ideas and some advice as to why your toddler won’t sit to eat.

Perfect Timing

Your toddler’s timetable is not yours. Take into consideration how much you allow them to eat during the day. Then ask yourself, are they even hungry?

If your toddler had a huge snack at 4:30, don’t expect them to be hungry at 6:30. Toddlers are just like us. They will eat when they are hungry. Forcing them to sit still and eat at this point is useless.

Remember, their attention span is short, as well as their temperament. Making them do anything against their will is the beginning of a power struggle.

Do your best to limit snacks before mealtime. Indulge in some activities, promoting the importance of sitting down with mom and dad to eat.

Try Something Different

If your toddler simply refuses to sit and eat, whether they are full or not, try something different.

When you and your spouse sit to eat, let your mealtime become their treat time. Now don’t give them candy and cookies; offer a healthy treat. Items such as fruit, gelatin, or maybe some warm milk with a splash of vanilla flavor is a good alternative.

And require them to sit in their high-chair with you and dad and remember to praise where praise is needed.

Give Them A Reason

Perhaps if you were to make the whole ordeal some type of game, you might accomplish your goal. The goal is to get then to sit first of all. Turn it into a fun activity.

Children love games, so try a high-chair game. Tell them, “I bet you can’t get in your high-chair like a big boy (or girl).” Make the idea of sitting at your dinner table a fun one.

When they get accustomed to getting in the high-chair on demand, then tackle the eating issue. Try a bit of reverse psychology. Tell them, “now, don’t you sit there and eat all your food, no, sir, don’t do that!”

Parents can get small children to do a lot of stuff by telling them ‘not to.’ The problem here is they do get older and wiser to your scheme. Your ‘schemes’ will become more elaborate with their age—just a note.

Is The Mood Right?

Sooner or later, either you or your spouse, or both, will have a bad day. It is an inevitable part of life. Let’s say you had one of those days, and now it’s dinner time. Would you want to sit through a meal with mom and dad while they vent about their day? Probably not.

Maybe you aren’t bringing the ‘right stuff’ to the dinner table in terms of your mood. Then factor in the toddler who is going to be messy, and loud, and not a very cooperating member of the family. Not a good recipe for a stress-free meal.

If you need to cool down before dinner, then, by all means, do so. Don’t let your toddler associate dinner time with you being mad about something.

Remember, too; your 2 to 3-year-old hasn’t quite developed the table manners of saying your 7 to 8-year-old. If you do have older children, who do quite well at the table, let the help you out. Let them help to teach the little one how to sit and eat. They love to be like a big brother or sister. And a big brother or sister loves the fact they are helpful. It’s a win-win.

Don’t Give In

When a parent ‘gives in’ to allowing anything, the child knows they have found a loop-hole. If the only way you can get your toddler to sit and eat is by offering a reward, rethink it.

The behaviors you allow and the ones you don’t are very impressionable at the 2 to the 3-year-old mark. And using anything as a bargaining tool is ill-advised. You don’t want your toddler to grow up with the attitude that they can get by with anything.

Mealtime is a good place to start being firm but gentle in your approach. It will shape the way for many other such opportunities as they get older.

Also, concerning meal time, be firm yet gentle in requiring total silence. Not regarding the conversation, but stuff like no TV, no toys, simply put no distractions.

Teach them that mealtime is just not appropriate for certain items and activities. Mealtime is another opportunity for you as the parent to introduce structure and proper behavior. Just remember who you are dealing with, and don’t try to teach them everything in one day.


A simple approach is to think about your toddler as a pet. They eat when they are hungry, and getting them to do something they don’t want to do impossible.

Providing them with reasons to sit and eat and emphasizing the importance is your main concern. And just remember always to give lots of love and affection.

1 thought on “5 Tips If Your Toddler Won’t Sit to Eat”

  1. If your baby won’t sleep, check out the sleep method from – Thank you SleepBaby for this brilliant method! My daughter now sleeps from 7pm to 6 or 6:30am every night with almost no night wakings. And even if she wakes, it’s usually just for a second and then she falls back asleep all on her own.

    Most nights I get my 8 hours of sleep and it’s just wonderful! I really feel like I understand her little body and mind and can address her sleeping holistically. I can’t thank you enough, Kacey and the team!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *