Q: How do I get my 12 month old from climbing out of his high chair when we are all sat around the table having our meals?! He is not quite able to understand the word no yet??!
A: Toddlers are notorious for struggling to get out of their high chair, car seats, prams or strollers. Sometime I think they just like the challenge! However learning to sit and eat is certainly necessary. Unless you get on top of this at the beginning I’ve certainly seen toddlers and children persist with trying to escape seats and straps for years to come.
Formal discipline as a strategy is of no use for such a young age and probably won’t be until about 2 ½ years of age. The best strategy to use for your toddler is cause and effect. By that I mean, when he is sitting and co-operating ie. Eating then use you as the reward. Chat to him, make eye contact, smile etc. When he starts to wriggle and struggle and work on the straps then stop chatting, talking, touching and looking. He is very focused on you and your attention and will soon work out that when sitting still and co-operating he has your attention. When he isn’t you soon disappear. So if you need to get up and take a few steps away and get busy with something else.
If he takes it to the next step and is really persistant with getting his arms out and trying to stand up you need to have a very quick reaction of standing up, picking up his plate of food and taking it away. All while saying nothing. And no glaring or sighs or rolling of eyes etc! Remove his food. WAIT. When he sits down then immediately place it back onto the high chair. Believe me he will soon work it out.
Be careful though not to be caught in a game, if you have removed the food say twice then that meal is over – finished – complete. Don’t feel guilty. He is a toddler and eats about every 2 hours!!! Start at breakfast and you have at least another 4 opportunities for him to eat that day. Believe me, a little firmness now will save you a huge headache later.
Simply try again at the next meal, when sitting and eating and co-operating lots of praise and attention and ‘thats right- great sitting in the highchair’ etc. Any trying to wriggle out and stand up – stop your attention, if he persists then remove the food. Twice and the meal is done. Any protesting screaming at you when you remove the food or take him out of the highchair and place him on the floor, simply walk away and get busy. When the protest is finished move onto another part of your day. Don’t be tempted to put him back in the highchair and give the meal back again. Or you will become locked into this. Yes, he will be hungry but only for a little while and he will experience direct cause and effect and learn very quickly to sit and eat.
The same goes for older children who may be sitting at a little kids table and chairs or the family dining room. The same technique works well.