Toddler Tantrums at Meal Time

My baby is 13 months old. She is suddenly giving me fits at milk time and eating time. I feed her milk to her in my arms and we go to the high chair for lunches and juice or water. What am I doingwrong...or could you offer advice?

 Carrie, Miamisburg,OH

Carrie, You’re not doing anything wrong. Your baby is doing what many do at about one year. Up until now she has enjoyed all her meals while being held. As a result she has become accustomed to eating while snuggling comfortably in your arms. She does not appreciate the change to eating in a high chair and is expressing her objections in no uncertain terms.

Of course, she cannot eat in your lap for the rest of her life so you are in the process of helping her make the transition—a transition that she does not want to make. Here’s what I would suggest. 

If you are still nursing her or feeding her milk by bottle then you need to continue to feed her milk in your arms. Besides her milk, however, you need to calmly tell her that she needs to eat everything else in her high chair. The key here is consistency and structure. She needs to learn the rule that she eats food in her high chair every time. Don’t expect an instant conversion. Even when she is in her high chair she might renew her screaming and protesting. When she is in her chair, reinforce that with a smile and a sincere “Thank you.” Then give her her food.

Do not be surprised if she cries and holds her arms out for you to rescue her from this cruelty. Once again, remember that consistency is crucial. If you hold her sometimes and insist on the high chair at other times, she is just learning to scream louder to get what she wants. A lot of parents give in because they can’t stand to see their babies so unhappy. She will recover and she will not starve. Your calm and consistent reinforcement will pay off with a happier baby and less stressed parent. 

Should she throw her food to demonstrate her unhappiness, immediately take her out of her high chair and calmly tell her, “If you throw your food, then you are choosing not to eat.”  She will quickly figure out that food fights are counter-productive.

If you have a partner present this is a great time to bring in the reinforcements. You can let the partner take over and you can excuse yourself and leave the room for a couple of minutes and let your partner follow the same consistent pattern.

Enjoy the snuggling during nursing or bottle feedings and best of luck for the rest of the meals!

Dr. Dave