When it’s time to hit the road, whether for a short trip to the grocery store or a longer road trip, if you have a small child who still needs to use a car seat, you know that simply getting them to sit in the car seat can be quite a challenge.
Car seats are intended to keep your child safe while traveling in a vehicle, but children love to move around and staying still in a car seat may not be their idea of a good time. It can also be a new experience and their fear about something different may be exhibited as a tantrum.
It’s important to remember that the use of a car seat, including whether it can be used front-facing or must be rear-facing, as well as the allowed location(s) in a vehicle is regulated by law in each state. Age and weight requirements may differ by state. Be aware of your state’s laws as well as differences in any states you plan to travel through.
If you’re having a hard time getting your child to sit in the car seat, remember to stay calm and follow these tips and tricks.
Help your child love their car seat
One of the first things a parent can do to help alleviate the fears that may be associated with a car seat is helping your child love it. My daughter calls her car seat her “throne” and sometimes pretends to be a princess, but it didn’t start out that way. Changes can be scary to children, such as transitioning from their infant car seat to a toddler version, or a toddler car seat to a booster.
For smaller babies and infants, lay them down in the car seat while still in the house. Let them hang out in there for a little bit with you nearby to get used to it. If you have a toddler, let your child check it out and sit down in it before the seat is installed.
Make it a learning experience and explain to them what it is and how it can keep them safe. Sit them down in it without strapping on the seat belt.
Make sure the car seat is comfortable
Comfort is important to keeping your child happy during a drive. Ensure that the seat is installed properly and follows your state’s laws. In addition to being properly installed, make sure the car seat is adjusted properly, not angled too far forward or back, with the shoulder straps not too high or too low, and the buckles and straps are all tightened appropriately and in their correct locations.
Take time to understand the problem with sitting in the seat
Sometimes your child may just be tired or cranky and in a bad mood. But sometimes there may be something else going on. If you let your child check out the car seat and everything was find, but you start having issues once it’s in the car, it might not be the car seat that’s the problem.
When my daughter had just turned two years old, she started throwing fits when we would put her in the car seat in my husband’s car, but never in mine. After a little patience and talking, I discovered she was frightened of the handle above the door; my car didn’t have the same thing. It was different and it scared her. We showed her what it was, talked her through her fears, and she hasn’t had a hard time getting in since then. If the tantrums start after you have already started driving, check that the sun isn’t shining in their eyes and consider using a sun shade.
Try making up a car seat game
Making a tough situation into a fun game can stop a tantrum or help get an unwilling child into their carseat. This works best with toddlers or children in booster seats, but there are several games that can be played. Make up stories about getting strapped into their race car or spaceship and create a “checklist” you can go over with your toddler.
For older children, time how fast they can climb into their seat and sit still. Don’t be afraid to be silly; laughing kids are happy kids. Let your older toddler help with straps or the top buckle on a car seat, too.
Keep your child entertained in the car seat
If your child sits down just fine but starts getting antsy or frustrated not long after hitting the road, it may just be a case of boredom striking. Keeping your child entertained during a drive can help the miles pass by before they know it.
Spend time talking to your child, even if they can’t talk back yet. Just the sound of your voice can go a long way toward calming down a fussy baby.
Break out your favorite songs and sing - it doesn’t always have to be a nursery rhyme. Make up a silly song with your toddler or listen to the radio. For older children who can see out of the window, pointing out things they can see outside. My daughter and I make a game of counting something different every time we drive, from trees to stop lights to birds. It keeps her busy and builds on her observation skills.
Finally, you don’t need to go digital to keep a kid happy. Keep some books and small toys on hand at all times. Let their imaginations run free.
Get them excited about traveling
Sometimes, all you need to do is get your child excited about the destination, even if it’s just a trip to the supermarket. My daughter loves to look at the flowers and plants in the garden section of the store. If she isn’t being a willing partner for my grocery store adventures, I ask if she wants to see the plants and flowers at the store, and she is usually running to get her shoes.
And remember, kids are smart. There is a big difference between doing something to celebrate good behavior and bribing a child. Try not to use toys, treats, or other bribes to get your child into a car seat as they will begin to expect this every time. Instead, consider creating a sticker chart where your child gets one sticker for each successful, happy trip in a car for some agreed on reward, such as a trip to the library or a new book.
A happy child can make the difference between an easy drive and a nightmare. If your child is not properly seated in their car seat injuries are possible, not to mention the added distractions to you, the driver.