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We've been feeding our 23 Month old toddler at a small folding table with a chair in front for several months now. We do this because it lets him exercise control over the pace he eats, reduces the stress of mealtime, and partly because his current booster seat doesn't properly tuck in under our table and traps his legs on the bottom lip of the table.

This has been working fine, with the exception that he would tip over his table once he's done with his mealtime. This isn't so bad when the plate is empty.

But lately, he has been tipping his table over in the middle of a meal, with lots of food left on the table, and been noticeably hungry afterwards too.

We've considered switching back to a booster chair or high chair, but we would prefer if we could keep teaching him to sit and eat on his own. Is there any way we can prevent him from tipping his table over during his meal, and any way for us to encourage him to finish his food, or at least tell us he's done in a less disruptive way?

He doesn't have many words yet, so talking about it to him or getting him to tell us he's done isn't really an option yet.

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    "but we would prefer if we could keep teaching him to sit and eat on his own. Is there any way we can prevent him from tipping his table over during his meal" I just want to point out here that these two things do not mean the same thing, and can even be polar opposites. Teaching a certain behavior tends to require having them be able to make the "bad" decision so that they learn to not do it even though they could. If you prevent it from happening, you prevent them from learning about the consequences, which are usually the driving force behind learning.
    – Flater
    Aug 4, 2023 at 5:31
  • Letting him exercise control over the pace he eats is working.... - Cut 2" off the legs of the real chair and then put the rubber feet back on.
    – Mazura
    Aug 5, 2023 at 16:26

4 Answers 4

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You indicate in your question that he doesn't have a lot of words yet, so talking to him about it isn't really an option, but I think you might be underestimating your son's ability to understand.

For our children, we taught them just a handful of sign language signs for the sake of communicating with us when either they couldn't or wouldn't talk:

You may want to introduce these to your son to help him communicate.

Additionally, we insist that our kids know what to do with their food when they're done eating it. My son is less verbal than my daughter, but he was able to understand when I explained to him that he needed to put his plate on the counter when he was done with it.

This may not be viable for your son given is still just shy of 2 (for reference my son was 3 when we introduced that for him), but even if you explain an instruction to him and show it to him, he should be able to understand and mimic you. For example, you might tell him to say 'All done' with sign language when done and then he can leave his table without flipping the table.


Another real possibility is that your son finds this to be a very funny thing to do. You didn't indicate whether he does this and then runs away laughing like the Joker, but if that's the case I would strongly recommend making him help you clean it up in whatever form works for you.

If such a thing happened at our house, we'd probably bring his plate over to him and make him pick up all the large pieces of food and put them back on it; then give him a towel to wipe up the liquids. Overall, the job won't be nearly as clean as if I did it, but it helps to help him understand consequences which helps a lot for the long-term. Also, by doing it with him, it feels less like you're punishing and instead feels like he's learning something together with you.

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    This is exactly what I was thinking. Aug 3, 2023 at 21:02
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One solution would be to limit the motion of his table. Maybe you could position his table under your big table, so that when he pushes up on his table it only raises up a few inches? Or maybe you could put his table under the big table and add a cardboard box between his table and the big table to prevent his table from being pushed up at all?

There are also toddler chairs, where the seat is as high as a booster but because it's a chair the child can get on and off of the chair on their own.

You could also replace his booster with something that would allow him to be at the big table. We used to use phone books, but there are other things that could be used.

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    It's actually the opposite problem with his booster - he's so big that when we put him in the booster, his legs get caught on the bottom lip of the table. I'll add that to my question.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 3, 2023 at 18:26
  • Would a shorter booster work to let your son eat at the big table?
    – user42851
    Aug 3, 2023 at 18:43
  • You could also teach your son some simple sign language, which kids his age can learn, so that he can say in sign "I'm done," or 'more."
    – user42851
    Aug 3, 2023 at 18:45
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My little boy used to eat at a little table rather than at the big table at that age too. Though he'd ask me to sit next to him on the little table!

Are you able to change the little table to something he can't tip over so well, or secure it in some way? Are you able to position yourself so that you can stop him tipping it when you see him going for it? You can certainly explain to him that you don't tip it over, and by tipping it over you think he's all done. Then check - "are you all done?" (look like you're taking the plate away) and give him a chance indicate he wants to go back to eating. If he tips it over again, then food time is over for now. And has he got opportunities for chucking stuff around (they do enjoy this bit of 'learning about gravity') that aren't food at the table?

You can certainly explain things to him even if he can't talk back, as well as using some simple signs if needed. Any language learner can attest to being able to understand a lot more than they can say!

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Don't over-analyse it. Make this behaviour impossible by contriving a setup that he CAN'T tip over!

He'll probably still tip his bowl over though. With or without content. Or throw it at the wall.

Why do you want him to eat at a separate table? You wouldn't like being excluded in that way! And it sounds like he's at a stage where constant, close attention is needed. Toddlers are hard work. You can't really train them then leave them to it!

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  • "his current booster seat doesn't properly tuck in under our table and traps his legs" +1
    – Mazura
    Aug 5, 2023 at 16:31
  • Please read the entire post before answering. While you're right that he'll probably figure out some other way to assert his agency, -1 for being quick to condemn something already explained in the body of the post. Aug 6, 2023 at 1:43

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