A quiet, sensitive toddler may be on a different track from her peers. She may comply with being fed and remain cooperative even during predictable times of conflict — after her first birthday, for example. Unlike other children her age, she may allow herself to be fed into the second year, apparently content to be a passive recipient.

Then, all of a sudden, refusal! No longer will she put up with being fed. This is a warning to parents to pull back and let her try feeding herself. Since she hasn’t had experience with finger-feeding or with utensils, her first attempts will be clumsy. A big mess at every meal — food on her face, her clothes, the table, the floor, everywhere — are the price for her earlier compliance.

Parents may even be thankful for the mess — a welcome relief from the initial refusal of this self-assertion phase. Patience is the saving grace. Let her learn to take over the job of feeding. Offer her only two bits at a time of an attractive finger food for each meal. Then ignore her struggle and leave the feeding to her.

Keep her company, but don’t cajole. If she eats the two bits, offer her two more, until she starts mashing them or launching them over the edge of her high chair. This behavior signals that the meal is over. Don’t let her “graze” between meals.

And for now, don’t worry about a well-rounded diet. Remember that this previously compliant child is quickly learning the skills of feeding herself. Be patient and follow her lead.

An active child presents a different set of challenges. Constantly moving, curious about everything, she is far more interested in sights, sounds and rushing around than in food.

A parent is bound to feel frustrated, even desperate. “Sit down in your seat,” a worried parent will beg as the child climbs out of her high chair to hang teetering on the edge. The child looks up coyly, holding out one hand for a cookie.

Anything she can eat will do as long as at the same time she can clamber around the house, up and over furniture and into drawers to pull out clean clothes with grubby fingers.

Many parents of such children have asked me, “Should I feed her on the run? She’ll never eat enough sitting down.”

My advice, applicable to both types of toddler:

Keep meals a sacred time for the family to be together. Don’t let the phone or text messages interfere.

When your child loses interest in sitting at the table, that’s it. Put her down and let her know her meal is over. No grazing between meals.

Make meals a fun time to be together — as much as is possible with a squirming, food-throwing toddler. Keep meals companionable. Eat when she does. But if she doesn’t eat, go on with your own meal and let her know that you can chat and be together if she stays at the table. If she squirms to leave, put her down. But she’ll have to wait for your attention until you’re done. Eventually she’ll learn to model your behavior.

Don’t turn on the TV at the table or promise special desserts to get her to sit and eat.

Let her feed herself. Never say, “Just one more bite.” If you do, you’ll be setting yourself up for testing.

Don’t go to the trouble of cooking a special meal for her — your disappointment is likely to outweigh the benefits. Instead, let your child know that “this is what we’re having for dinner tonight.” If she doesn’t want it, she’ll have to see if she likes the next meal any better.

Let her help with meals as soon as she is old enough to do even the smallest task, such as setting the table (start with the napkins only) or cleaning up with a sponge.

Have your child’s pediatrician check her weight and growth, and ask her for supplements if necessary.

Above all, don’t set up meals as a struggle, or her high chair as a prison.

(This article is adapted from “Feeding: The Brazelton Way,” by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua D. Sparrow, published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10018. Questions may also be sent by email to:

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