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Handling a distracted eater


I must confess this parental failing I have: I chase after my toddler at meal times.

Yes. I am one of those parents that run after their child at meal times, spoon in hand, attempting to shovel food into my son’s mouth as he plays, watches TV or runs around.

Innocent beginnings
The whole thing started innocently enough when we were trying to encourage him to be more independent at meal times to sit at his own child-sized table and chair to eat his food.

However at less than two years old, his attention span barely lasted more than a minute before he became bored. So I started bringing in different things to distract him… having another set of utensils to play with, other toys, TV…

Pushing boundaries
Before long he started to test and push boundaries, wandering off to grab another a book or toy, then wandering off further and further away until I had to run after him to bring him back.

By then I realised that we had ended up in a very compromising situation where I was being sucked into this long drawn-out meal-time process just to get food down into my toddler’s tummy.

Things were getting out of hand
The whole thing was getting out of hand, so we called a parenting meeting between hubs and I.

We realised that we needed to stop making excuses for Nathan that he is still young or still learning how to behave or doesn’t really understand yet. What we decide to enforce IS the way he will learn how to behave.

So we decided to set some basic rules:

  • At meal times, bums must strictly remain on the chair at all times
  • No TV allowed at meal times
  • One toy may be allowed at the table
  • Parents will decide when meal time is over

Ups and downs
Of course we have had plenty of ups and downs, and often we had to resort to the dreaded time-out chair when rules are not complied with.

We’ve experienced some meltdowns and food being flung everywhere. And sometimes I make the mistake of letting Nathan push boundaries too far before enforcing the rule or punishment.

On the right track
Despite the challenges, we have honestly seen some marked improvement during meal times over the past few weeks. And the majority of meal times now run fairly smoothly with bum remaining in chair (although we still sometimes encounter the occasional escapee situation).

It’s still on ongoing learning process for everyone, but I think we all seem to be heading in the right direction.

Have any of you faced a similar issue? If you have any tips and advice to share, please feel free to share them with this mummy-in-training as I’m eager to learn from you guys.

Linking up to

P.S: At the moment Nathan’s meal times are at an earlier time separate from us because I usually prepare a different toddler-meal for him and also to align the timing with his nap/sleep times. However now that he is getting older, I am planning to transition him to eat at the adult table with us for dinner. This will be a bit challenging because it means I will have to work hard prepare the full dinner meal for everyone right on time (usually we adults are flexible to eat much later in the evening after we settle Nathan’s bath and sleep time). Not sure how this plan will go yet, but we’ll give it a go and see how it works out.


  1. I think you're on the right track Serene. Keep at it and don't allow Nathan to get his way otherwise he'll quickly use that to his advantage. All the best!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Susan. Sometimes it becomes a battle of wills, but Kkeeping at it as best as I can.

  2. this might be useful...
    go straight to 18:44

    1. I don't think I like to offer his form of 'payment' for his services. And Nathan is much fiercer than that kid... don't think he will let this guy become the 'Leader of the Pak'

  3. I have a similar problem except that mine is caused by his main caregivers of grandparents! They bring his toys to the dining table, tell stories, perform puppet / stuff toy shows etc.

    Weekends I hardly can manage so one day I told the kid in a very grown up discussion style and he agreed that meal times, he doesn't get his usual entertainment. But the advantage of this is that he gets done with his meal earlier and have more time to play.

    However we allow him to decide when he is done. All he needs to do is to tell us he's full.

    1. Hey Donna. Oh wow... meal time at grandparents is 'dinner and a show' for your son! first class entertainment... how to beat that? It's great that your son is willing to be so reasonable and understanding to help you get around this. I know your weekends must be so precious that the time is better spent doing meaningful activities rather than dilly-dallying over meals.

      Agree that the child can tell us when he is full. However I don't think my 22-month old has quite grasped the concept yet, he thinks "full" means that he simply wants to get off the chair. So he can be "full" after only two bites. But if he can't finish right up to the last spoonful and I can see he's had enough I'll let him go.

      Still trying to figure out how to teach him the real concept of 'Full', though... hmmm...

  4. Hey Serene, I couldn't help but giggle at the mention of a "parenting meeting", we often have those in our household. A mini-townhall of sorts. :P

    Anyway, we've been blessed with kids who love to eat, esp my baby boy. He eats EVERYTHING. Which means apart from main meals at the table, he's eating off the scraps that fall onto the floor, etc, etc. If he spots you eating, your food is at risk. Haha, but I must say keep going at it. I've had mealtime battles with my elder girl before when she was going through a rebellious phase, and it took lots of grit. Plus we also threw in some enticements similar to Nerdymum, reminding her that she'll be able to go and play after, etc.

    Plus I really think they enjoy eating and bonding with mum and dad after a certain age...After a while, they'll get it! And I hope for you, it'll be soon! Jiayou :)

    1. Thanks June! That is my dream... so be able to enjoy a really good family bonding time at meal times someday. Right now meal times are quite task oriented in teaching my son how to eat properly, trying to overcome suspicions with new foods, cleaning etc. But your point about family bonding is a good reminder for what I can aspire toward and see the bigger picture in the midst of these early years challenges

  5. My situation is quite similar...and much more challenging cos I have to deal with twins at the same time, and when one runs off in the middle of the meal, the other follows too. I really hate chasing after them with spoon in hand, and after 2 years of screaming, tears and meltdowns (mostly the mum >_<), now at 4yo they are able sit thru a meal, eating all their favourite food (like nuggets and cheesu stuff) and leaving all rice n veg behind...but at least I just feed them for 15min and it's done. I serve them each individual dishes in plastic plates (like we adults eat dinner) so they are free to eat what they like. They are only 4, I keep telling myself, that I cannot expect them to stay at the table like adults...which they can when they are very very hungry haha..

    1. Hi Leslie! Twins! Double the trouble! (but double the fun too). Can't imagine how I would handle two between just one of me. Agree that we need to manage our expectations with our young ones... we can set some basic standards of course, but I guess it's still going to be a learning process for everyone for a while


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