My 18-month-old son, who is very active and social, likes to eat only when we allow him to watch rhymes. Even though he is super hungry, he refuses to eat (even his favorite food) without watching rhymes.

How can I make him eat without screen time?

  • 2
    By "rhymes" I assume you mean some kind of TV show? If so, what does he do when you are out of the house and there is no TV? Jan 21, 2016 at 20:57
  • Could be hard but you might have to get rid of rhymes all together for a while. My youngest insists on ipad time with meals - which means ridiculous videos on youtube - eventually she wouldn't eat even with them. Just stares on until we remind her every bite to eat something. We're in mid shift now trying to phase out ipads and it's working to some degree but still it's a hard battle. My 5 year old is old enough to understand when it's meal time and when it's not so I think even if you nurture a bad habit you can still reason with them later. It just might be a lot harder
    – Kai Qing
    Jan 21, 2016 at 21:34
  • @kai - I am in same boat. It is very hard.
    – Swathi
    Jan 26, 2016 at 0:22

4 Answers 4


It sounds like your son has developed quite a bad habit there. Eating in front of the television is not good, so I think you'll want to nip this habit in the bud straight away. It might seem harsh, but I really think you should simply wait it out. Don't turn on the TV, no matter what. He'll eat when he gets hungry enough.

Don't make a big fuss, and don't engage the child in an argument. Simply tell the child that the television is not going on. The rest is up to him.

Also you may want to generally look at how much screen time the child has, and gradually try to reduce it. Less is definitely more in regards to screen time.

  • Since we are talking about an 18 mo toddler, the right amount of screen time will be "no screen time".
    – Evargalo
    Aug 5, 2020 at 9:27

We simply do not look at screens during meals with children. We do not open cell phones, tablets and laptops, and do not turn on the TV for meal time entertainment with kids. We may occasionally do a video call (FaceTime, Skype, etc) during meals, but this feels more like another form of communication than a passive use of screens. Interestingly, we found that even video calls are distracting for the kids, so we do not do them during meals too often.

From my experience, at this age it is possible to discontinue screen time associations cold turkey, without any gradual phasing out. Even if it is associated with a meal, it should be possible to withdraw screen time, kindly, politely but also firmly. Eating is an instinct more powerful than screen time addiction in a situation like you described. :)


Put the TV away for a couple of weeks. Tell him it is broken. Show him the space where it was to prove to him it has gone. If you convince him the TV is no longer an option hell accept the situation more readily.

  • I was going to suggest telling him it's broken, too, but I wouldn't go so far as putting it away. What my wife and I have done when there's been too much TV time is just unplug it! It's worked wonders. We also have a streaming device, so sometimes we'll unplug that.
    – user11394
    Jan 24, 2016 at 21:42
  • 2
    I am generally opposed to solutions requiring to lie to the child. That may have bad consequences later on.
    – Evargalo
    Aug 5, 2020 at 9:29
  • 1
    I agree with @Evargalo just say you decide to put the TV away because it has a bad influence on your family or some other valid reason. (But this means you will also have to sacrifice watching TV). Shortcuts in parenting will be detours in the long run. Aug 6, 2020 at 6:54

Limit the exposure to screens to few hours per week. explain to him that, for his good, you want him to explore other things (reading, music, playing without screen ). Model healthy electronic usage, kids will learn from elders at home. Keeping tv on for background noise all the time or scrolling through your mobile any time teaches your kid bad habits. Set aside times to unplug from technology.(dinner times). Encourage other activities as far as possible.

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