Strategies for Car-Seat Cooperation

by Karen Miles

Strategies for Car-Seat Cooperation

Some of the biggest parent-toddler battles ever waged take place in the backseat of the car — when it’s time to buckle up.

Even if your child was a contented passenger as a baby, he may now find the car seat an affront to his newfound sense of independence. “While there’s no room for compromise here, there are things you can do to win over a toddler,” says Diane Farineau, child passenger safety coordinator at the University of Virginia Health System, in Charlottesville. To get him in the seat and keep him happy:

Encourage bonding. Let him sit in his car seat indoors while he reads or watches TV, and help him decorate the seat with stickers. When it’s time to buy a new one, narrow your options to two or three, then give him the final choice.

Make it worth it. Remind him where you’re headed — if it’s somewhere he wants to go — and that you’ll never get there unless he’s buckled in. If he needs more incentive than your destination (on errand day, for example), reserve a favorite soft toy or snack that he receives only after he’s buckled in his seat. Entice him for a longer ride by setting up a reward system: Each time he cooperates, give him a star to put on a special chart. After a certain number of struggle-free trips, treat him to a special outing or gift.

Show and tell. Assign your backseat driver some authority by having him do a verbal “seat-belt check” of every person riding in the car: “Seat-belt check, Daddy. Check. Seat-belt check, Daniel. Check.”

Distract him. Once he’s safely restrained, don’t expect him to amuse himself for the whole ride. Play a favorite CD or tape, ask him to tell you when the lights change, or make a game out of finding colors or animals outside.

Take a break. It’s tough for a child to sit, happily confined, for hours. On long trips, pull over for a pit stop at least every hour or so.