Toddlerhood is full of transitions, and mealtime is no exception. Moving your child from the high chair to a booster seat is an exciting change that can help create a more all-inclusive environment while eating, especially during family meals.
It probably seems like just yesterday that you were strapping a barely steady baby into a high chair for their first taste of solid food.
When and how to transition your toddler from the high chair to the table depends on their eating habits and physical development.
While there are no hard-and-fast rules, we’ve rounded up a few guidelines to help you and your little one navigate the transition from the high chair to the table.
While some children continue to use a high chair happily and safely into the preschool years, others need to move on much earlier.
A booster seat can be a good option for a toddler who wants to eat at the table like the rest of the family but isn’t tall or balanced enough to sit in a regular chair.
However, before choosing a booster seat, consider whether it offers the proper support for your child and will work with your dining area and family eating habits.
Here are some essential facts to consider as you weigh the pros and cons of a booster chair.
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When To Transition From High Chair To Table
Although there’s no specific age, your toddler will typically be ready to move away from the high chair anywhere between 18 months and three years of age.
They’re steady enough to keep themselves upright for more extended periods during this range but may still be a bit wiggly.
Don’t worry if they aren’t entirely stable or tall enough to reach the table; booster seats can bridge the gap and help ease the transition.
Signs Your Toddler Is Ready To Move To The Table
Like many transitions during early childhood, your toddler will likely let you know when they’re ready to make a move.
If your child is becoming increasingly fussy during mealtime in the high chair, they may be trying to express a desire for eating with the rest of the family.
This might be accelerated if your toddler has an older sibling who they notice isn’t in a high chair—they’ll want to be a “big kid” at the table, too.
Another sign can be your child’s physical development: Your toddler might simply be getting too big for the high chair.
If you notice they seem uncomfortable or are trying to climb out, it may be time to switch to a booster seat at the table.
Additionally, if your toddler has both the desire and talent to feed themselves with utensils, they’re probably ready for a bit more independence during mealtime.
Your Child’s Size And Stage Of Development
Before their first birthday, many babies might be able to use a booster as long as they can sit up independently.
However, some booster seats have little all-around support or safety belts and may not be appropriate for younger children.
For instance, travel boosters do not usually have a front tray or lock-in system, which can help smaller toddlers and babies keep themselves upright.
Most children are steady enough for all types of boosters by 18 months of age. However, larger toddlers may be too big for some booster seats.
If your child is strong enough to wiggle the booster forcefully (which can loosen the safety straps securing it to the dining chair or move a non-strap advocate), you may need to forget this option altogether.
For larger toddlers and young preschoolers, consider:
- Products that raise the chair from the bottom so your child can reach the table while sitting unassisted.
- A child-sized table where your toddler and siblings can eat some meals independently.
Your Toddler’s Disposition
For a toddler who doesn’t like to be held down, a booster seat can offer a little more sense of freedom and equality with the rest of the family since they are pushed right up to the table.
The newfound joy of being fully included may help with challenging behaviours, such as food fussiness or dinner-time tantrums.
Getting rid of the high chair may also be a good idea if you have a climbing toddler. Little ones are often tempted to scale the sides of high chairs or climb into and out of the seat, which can be dangerous.
Even with a booster, you need to be vigilant when you have a climber. Your toddler might easily be able to climb into the champion.
But once up there, they are at significant risk of falling both while sitting and trying to get back down.
Luckily, boosters can easily be removed from your dining chair and stored in a safe place between meals and snacks to eliminate the temptation.
Transitioning To The Table: Booster Seats
The transition from the high chair can and should be eased by a booster seat.
Booster seats can range anywhere from ultra-safe with snaps and additional safety features to simple booster seat pads that give your toddler a boost.
Like finding the perfect high chair, the search for a booster seat to fit your toddler’s needs depends on your child’s development and your family’s lifestyle.
When you feel you and your child are ready, a few seating options help transition smoothly.
A dining booster seat is portable, space-saving and easy to clean, making it an ideal choice both at home and while dining away.
Look for straps that attach the booster to a chair, as well as a safety belt to keep your toddler from wriggling out.
Some booster seats are equipped with a snap-on tray, which might suit your child if they’re between stages—that is, if they’re ready to do away with the high chair but not quite prepared to sit at the table.
Consider a booster pad if your child demonstrates an apparent eagerness to sit at the table and needs the added height.
This soft seat straps onto a dining chair and makes mealtime comfortable for a toddler who’s ready to sit with the family.
Remember, there’s no set age that your child should graduate from the high chair. So if it takes a little longer to get them in a booster at the table, that’s OK.
The most important thing is that your child stays safe—and that mealtime is an enjoyable experience for all involved.
When To Switch From High Chair To Booster Seat?
You think it may be time to transition from the high chair but don’t want to create extra stress or endangerment by abandoning it too soon.
So how do you know when your child is ready for the next step?
Here are five signs to look out for:
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The High Chair Is Creating Chaos
If your child gets hysterical whenever you try to put them in the high chair, it may be time to start transitioning from it.
Mealtime should be about socialization and quality family time, not a war zone. Also, as toddlers become more independent, their high chair might be too restrictive for them.
They Can Follow Rules
Following basic high chair safety rules is a must when transitioning, especially if you’re bypassing a booster and going straight to a regular chair.
Before making the switch, ensure your child knows chairs are not for standing on, rocking, lying on, or playing.
Make it clear they should remain seated during meals, and all plates, bowls, and utensils are to stay at the table.
As long as your child can sit still long enough to eat and follow these basic safety rules, it really shouldn’t matter where they eat.
You’ve Got A Little Houdini.
Has your child suddenly become an escape artist capable of unbuckling that five-point harness? Can they climb in and out of the high chair or crib?
Once your child can unbuckle and escape, the high chair becomes more a safety hazard than helpful. So get your little Houdini out as soon as possible.
They Want To Be Like You
Have you noticed your child imitating every little thing you do? Do they want to be “just like daddy or mama?”
When a child reaches this phase of development, they notice their parents or older siblings aren’t sitting in a high chair. Or, if in a daycare setting, they’ll see all the older kids sitting at a table.
Most children then want to sit in a “big kid” chair.
You’ve Got A Little Climber.
If your child is starting to try out all the different seats in the house, it might be time to let them sit like a big kid. Then, once they can safely get in and out of the different seats, go ahead and let them try it out during meals.
Feeding Seat Options For Toddlers
Hard to believe, but here comes (yet another) toddler transition: the move from high chair to table. The seating options are a dining booster seat or a hook-on high chair — read on to find out which one’s best for your tot’s bottom.
Dining Booster Seats
Your critter will probably be ready for a booster seat at around 18 months, but if she seems happy in her high chair, there’s no need to move her until about 24 months.
A few more things to know: If you have a convertible high chair, you already own a booster seat — you need to make the switch (don’t panic if you didn’t keep the manual — the directions are online, too).
And don’t use a car booster seat as a dining booster seat — though they’re both pieces of toddler gear designed to keep your cutie secure, they’re not interchangeable.
- Dining booster seats are pretty portable, so you can use your own wherever you eat out with toddlers (and bypass that germy restaurant high chair).
- In your kitchen, closet, or car trunk, they take up less space than freestanding high chairs.
- They’re much simpler to clean than crevice-filled high chairs.
- If your child isn’t strapped in securely, it’s pretty easy for her to slip and slide in (or out of) her seat.
- A dining booster seat might create a tight squeeze (no knee room) for a tall toddler, and that means neither of you will be happy at the table.
- Most dining booster seats are too bulky to stow in the overhead compartment when travelling by air, so you may have to pay for it as checked luggage.
Features To Look For:
- Straps to attach the booster seat to an adult chair (these are a must)
- Safety belts and harnesses to keep your squirmy worm from wriggling out of the chair (another must — and use them every time)
- Stain-resistant, easy-to-wipe fabric or plastic to make clean-up a cinch
- A design that suits your toddler’s temperament. A wiggler will do better in a plush, high-back seat; it might keep her calm and comfy longer. Got a mellow tot? A simple, low-back chair may do the trick.
- Products that have been certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA)
Hook-on High Chairs
As soon as your little one can sit up (around six months), she can score a spot with the grown-ups with a hook-on high chair. These seats clip right onto the table (and can be unclipped and stashed away after each meal).
- Your tot can sit anywhere there’s a table, no extra chairs required.
- This handy seat is a massive space-saver over a freestanding high chair.
- Hook-on seats are easy to fold, a welcome feature for families on the go.
- You must pay close attention to the weight recommendation — hook-on high chairs usually hold up to around 35 pounds, but that number varies from seat to seat.
- It would help if you had a very stable table to hook the chair onto. Even a tiny toddler can tip a shaking table.
- Hook-on high chairs tend to cost more than dining booster seats.
- Their seat covers and attachment parts are trickier to clean than dining booster seats, which tend to be one smooth piece.
Features To Look For:
- A chair you can attach and detach in a snap
- Clasps that won’t mark up your furniture
- Sturdy clips and a belt that can securely (and comfortably) hold your child
- A high back for extra support, especially if you have a younger toddler
- A removable, machine-washable seat (preferably padded) so it’s easier to clean up a toddler mealtime mess or a vinyl-padded one you can easily wipe down
- Products that have been certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA)
Transitioning Out Of The High Chair
So you’ve identified the signs above, and your child is ready to graduate from the high chair. But how do you make the transition?
This will vary from child to child and also depend on your preferences.
Here are some of my favourite tips for transitioning from the high chair.
Make It Gradual
If your child is showing all the signs above, except for being an escape artist, you can take your time transitioning from the high chair.
Start with just snacks in the big kid chair and still use the high chair for meals until you know they are fully capable of sitting still through the entire meal.
You could also keep the high chair for really messy meals.
Consider A Booster
Strapped boosters are a significant next step if your child will sit in one. When choosing a booster seat, pick one with straps for the child and straps to the chair. Avoid restaurant-style boosters, as they can easily topple over.
There are also space saver high chairs, which sit right atop a chair and can become strapped boosters by merely removing the tray and pulling them up to the table. Try adding some stickers with your child’s favourite characters to make the advocate more enticing.
Make It Child Size
If your child won’t sit in a booster, but you’re not comfortable with them sitting at the tall kitchen chairs, then a child-size set of tables and chairs may be a great alternative.
They can sit in a chair without the worry of falling a few feet to the ground. You could also invite their friends over and let them have a little “dinner party” at the table.
Turn off the T.V. and sit at the table as a family. Make mealtime a social family event, rather than just scarfing down food. Talk about your day, involve your child, and spend some quality time together.
This also distracts them from getting in and out of their new un-restrictive chair, and they can eat better.
It may be time to ditch the high chair if it’s just creating chaos or your child is trying out the different seats in the house.
Also, when your child can follow the rules, is a little Houdini, or wants to be “just like you,” it’s time to say bye to the high chair!
Consider using a booster or child-size table when you make the switch, and make mealtime a family event.
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