My 3 year old refuses to eat at the table. He is picky with food so mealtimes can be battle anyway. Now he just runs away and refuses to sit with the rest of the family. It has caused quite a few tantrums and now I dread family mealtimes. He is perfectly happy to eat, as long as I allow him to eat what he wants in front of the TV. Help!
Abby S. (mom of two)
Abby, that sounds really frustrating for all involved. There are lots of reasons that toddlers decide they don't want to participate in family mealtimes. Here are a few of them:
Toddler isn't hungry and doesn't see the point. You may want to monitor his snacks and how much he is "grazing" during the afternoon. On the flip side, you don't want him to be starving and "hangry" when he gets to the table.
He doesn't care to sit that long. How long is the meal and what is the expectation? Some toddlers are simply not ready for a long sit- down meal. This doesn't mean that your son can't sit at the table for a short time - you may just cut his time shorter than the rest of the family's.
He is having sensory issues with food. Has he always been picky? Some toddlers are very sensitive to food textures and flavors. If you think this might be an issue, talk to your pediatrician about seeing an occupational therapist. Feeding therapy for sensitivity issues can be very successful.
There are more fun things to do. Is the TV on? Are his toys around? It may be that sitting at the table feels like a drag to him with so many fun distractions.
It sounds like its time to reset. First, you need to look at the reaction that you and your partner are having when he refuses to sit at the table. From this day forward, try to remain neutral and don't get too emotional or angry. Of course you want a nice family dinner, but toddlers don't think like adults, so try to meet him halfway.
Next prioritize. What is most important? Having him eat at the table or having him eat a more varied meal? You should tackle these issues one at the time. My feeling is that sitting at the table might be the easier one to tackle first.
If it's eating at the table, make a plan with him. It could go like this:
5:00 - Play with toys.
5:30 - Daddy gets home!
5:40- Five minutes to dinner time at the table! Finish playing with toys and get ready!
5:45 - Come to the table and sit for 5 minutes (you can use a kitchen timer and gradually add time. There is no reason to fuss about what is eaten - if he is sitting, that is great progress! Keep it positive. When the timer dings, he can go play!)
If it's eating a better variety of foods, you may consider serving tiny portions of unpreferred foods and larger portions of preferred foods. Your child can't be forced to eat, so just congratulate him on eating anything on his plate, even if its only the preferred food. Take the stress away from eating and you may see a positive change pretty quickly.
Most of all, Abby, enjoy your time with your family at mealtime! Tell jokes, get silly, and try not to set an unrealistic expectation of what mealtimes should be. Make a plan with your son, stick to it, and then relax. Your son will want in on the fun at the dinner table and he will eventually forget his need to control the situation.
Let Them Fly!