When Can a Child Transition From a High Chair to a Booster Seat?

Lovely little baby enjoying breakfast by herself

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It probably seems like just yesterday that you were strapping a barely steady baby into a high chair for their first taste of solids. While some children will 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 just like everyone else in the family but who isn't tall enough or balanced enough to sit in a regular chair.

Before you choose a booster seat, however, consider whether it offers the right support for your child and will work with your dining area and family eating habits. Here are some important facts to consider as you weigh the pros and cons of a booster chair.

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 are able to sit up on their own. 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 booster), you may need to forget this option altogether. For larger toddlers and young preschoolers, consider:

  • Products like Kaboost, which raises 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 new-found joy of being fully included can actually help you deal with some challenging behaviors 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 that can easily fall over. Or your child may like to 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 booster. But once up there, they are at great risk of falling both while sitting and while 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.

Table and House Set Up

Keep in mind that you need a specific type of set-up to use a booster safely:

  • Only attach a booster chair to a sturdy, hard-backed dining chair.
  • Check the specific requirements for each model—some also require that the chair have a hard surface seat (no cushion).
  • If you have a lightweight dining seat or use folding chairs, a booster is not for you.
  • The table, too, needs to be heavy so your toddler can't push it forward or topple anything while seated at the table.
  • Don't place the chair with a booster near the wall—toddlers might push off the wall with their feet and tip over.

Never leave your baby unattended in the booster seat. If you know you will need to step away from the booster (even just momentarily) because of how your kitchen and dining area is set up, forget the booster and look for a sturdy high chair that is mobile.

Clean Up

If part of your frustration with the high chair is tied to the nearly impossible mission of cleaning it completely, know that the booster makes the chore much easier.

With typical models of high chairs, you're left with straps that you somehow need to scrub and soak in order to remove traces of the oatmeal that came back up and crevices that hold fossilized crumbs of cookies and Cheerios.

With the typical model of the booster, you can put the entire seat into the sink (or dishwasher!) for a hose-down.

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