Car Seat Wars

Car Seat Wars, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka & Lynn Jessen

Dear Dr. Mary & Lynn,

My three-year-old son Nate never simply gets into his car seat.  First he has to climb into the front seat and “drive.”  Then a toy on the floor will catch his attention and he will insist on checking it out. Of course the book he wants has been left in the house.  The simple act of getting into the car is now taking a minimum of 15 minutes.  But if I try to hurry him or refuse to let him climb into the front seat he screams and arches his back making it impossible to strap him into the car seat.  I can’t be late for work every morning.  Help!  ~ Kim

Dear Kim: 

You might be feeling like you are the only parent who can’t get your child into his car seat, but you are not alone.  There are many little dawdling protestors out there making getting to work a real challenge. So let’s get out of those car seat wars.

Settling into a car seat is very important from a safety perspective.  When a behavior is unsafe, it is a time for us to be predictable and firm so the child learns this is not a time for negotiation.  Traveling by car also happens frequently so it’s critical to make the entry and exit a smooth transition.  

Begin by talking with Nate about the importance of getting into his car seat cooperatively.   Together make a visual plan, using drawings and photos to show each step.  The steps might include, walking to the car, opening the door (adult’s job), climbing in the seat, sitting down and buckling up.  Include as the last step something fun,  such as discussing what topic you’ll talk about while driving, or what song he would like to hear.  By doing this you clearly let him know what is expected.  Without this information, he can’t cooperate because he doesn’t know what the expectations are.  Our experience has shown us that  a conversation and a simple visual plan can truly set you both up for success.

Question:  Share your experiences.  What problems have you faced and how have you taught your child what behavior is expected? 

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