Disciplining a 4 Year Old at the Dinner Table

For the longest time, I dreaded dinner time…”I don’t like this.” “This is gross.” “This is disgusting.” “I’m not eating that.” “I want something else.” it just went on and on and on. My 4 year old is very persistent and dinner time is not an exception.

I’m not a mom that likes spanking, I feel like it doesn’t teach anything good. I’m all for other punishments though, time outs, standing in the corner, taking toys away, reward charts, praise for good behavior, etc. The only problem is, I feel like I had tried everything to try and get my child to eat dinner, I even would make her sit there, and that’s exactly what she would do, she would just sit there for the longest time.

I finally had enough one night with the complaining and whining, and here is what I did. I put a time out chair facing the wall in the hallway to our garage, that way she could not see anyone. The minute she started complaining or whining about dinner, I gave her a warning and explained to her if it happened again she would be spending 4 minutes in the time out chair. The next time she broke the rules, she went straight to the time out chair, I typed in 4 minutes on the microwave timer and when it went off, she was to come right back to the table and eat. I warned her if it happened again, she would do the same thing.

The time outs continued on for an entire hour, when she finally decided to eat dinner, and she ate all of it. That took some persistence on my part and some hard time dedicating, following through, but the next night at dinner I gently reminded her of the night before, and since then she has ate dinner every single night and it has been a couple months since this happened. If she whines or complains, I just remind her of the night she spent an hour going back and forth to time outs.

I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but I’d give it a try. I also feel the key to making this work is remaining calm and just following through, don’t give up. I had looked every where online for ways of disciplining a preschooler, a toddler, 3 year old, 4 year old, 5 year old, and to be honest, I didn’t really come across anything that I feel I hadn’t already tried. I’m hoping by sharing this with my readers it will help out someone.


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I do believe in spanking, but I think in certain instances it is inappropriate, such as your daughter not wanting to eat. I think if people spank their kids because they don’t eat, it will leave their children having even more negative feelings towards meal time. Glad you found something that works so EVERYONE can enjoy dinner time!

  2. Bailey Vazquez says:

    This is a great idea to keep in mind for when my little gets a bit older! She’s not normally too picky, but has started the “eewie” phase which is already quite old. So far, we just let her not eat. The biggest rule has been, if you ask for it you will eat all of it. If that means we have to continue refrigerating and reheating until it’s gone, that’s what happens. If we serve it to her, we won’t force her to eat it though (sometimes she’s just not hungry, after all!). And occasionally, a bribe with a lolly or popsicle. But those are for rare times when Mommy doesn’t have the energy 😉

  3. Hi Darci. You’re such an inspiration. I will try to do this to my 3 years old. For quite a time I tried to do a time out with my daughter. But then I figured out that she can stand it and so I need to try another strategy in disciplining her. Thank you for your post.

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