Baby Steps: Sitting Solo

by Anita Sethi, Ph.d.

Baby Steps: Sitting Solo

Q  My 15-month-old absolutely refuses to sit in her high chair. We have tried letting her sit in a booster chair, but she won’t. I don’t know if she’s scared of them or if she just wants me to hold her. Every time we go out to a restaurant, I have to hold her the entire meal but only after she throws a tantrum. What can I do to get her to sit down so we can both enjoy a nice, quiet meal?

A A nice, quiet meal and a meal with a toddler are generally mutually exclusive. If you are expecting your daughter to sit peacefully in her high chair, eating and entertaining herself for the length of an adult meal, you are likely to be disappointed. For many children, the process of eating isn’t as interesting as it is for adults, and it certainly doesn’t take as long.

At 15 months, mobility is at a premium. Now that your daughter can walk, virtually any constraint is terribly frustrating. Imagine if you had just worked very hard to develop a new skill¿ — you’d be anxious to exercise your new talent, too. It’s also important for babies and toddlers to fill their senses. Being confined to a high chair may make your daughter feel like she cannot conduct all of the experimentation about the world that she desires.

The trick to getting her to stay in her seat¿ — for a short time, at least¿ — will be to make sure that she is meeting her other developmental needs, too. One immediate solution, just to get her into the chair, may be to put an attractive toy that she’s never seen before on the tray, and then let her know that she needs to sit in the seat to play with it. While you can’t do this every time you want her to sit down, it might help change your daughter’s association of the high chair with boredom and limitations.

Generally, keep her time in the chair short. If she knows that she will be out soon, she may resist getting in less. In fact, you could start by just keeping her in it for five to seven minutes at a time at home, so she doesn’t feel it’s always interminable. When you really need her to sit for a longer period of time, such as at a restaurant, try to make sure she is hungry, and then provide food that is interesting to look at and touch, so that she can engage all of her senses. Let her smear and mash all she likes, and don’t worry about the mess or the restaurant patrons¿ — if the restaurant has made the choice to have high chairs, and the patrons have made the choice to come there, then all should be prepared for such possibilities.

If nothing works to even get your daughter into the chair, it could be that she is frightened of it. If that is the case, it may work to just wait for a while and try other ways of feeding her at home. You could try feeding her on your lap or on the floor, and skip bringing her to restaurants for a few months unless you’re willing to hold her. Such fears often pass with time and trying to force her to comply is clearly not effective.

In any case, I would not let her get to the point of throwing a tantrum after which you give in. If you’re going to give in, go ahead and do it sooner. Otherwise you’re simply teaching her that such outbursts are effective in getting what she wants. And that’s no fun for anyone.