Kids get bored, especially when in the car, which can result in whining, fidgeting, and even crying. And far too often, parents turn their rear-facing child around because they think a forward-facing child will be happier.
We know that the absolute youngest a child should be forward-facing is 2 years old, but kids can get testy, bratty, and bored before then. So, along with my own solutions, I asked around and came up with a great list of ways we can keep toddlers rear-facing and happy and safer all at the same time.
Yes, it's possible!
Utilize older siblings -- have them sing, make funny faces, or even just talk.
Talk to your child. Even if they can't see you, they'll enjoy it, and if they're old enough to answer back, this is definitely entertainment enough.
Provide drawing options, like one of the Magnetic Doodling boards, so there are no crayons to drop and coloring on the car seat.
Very securely attach a portable DVD player to a headrest*, or have one installed on the roof that has a swivel option so it can face a rear-facing child.
Have safe snacks and drinks available. Bonus if your older children can help ration the toddler's supply.
Buy a safe (soft) mirror so you can see your kiddo, and they can see you (well, the back of your head and maybe part of your face in your rear-view mirror) as well.
Sing loudly to music.
Let them play with a Gameboy, iPad, or other handheld entertainment device.*
Provide soft and safe toys of all kinds, but don't attach any to the carseat itself.
Have car-only toys and books, so they're more special and interesting.
Time trips to a time your child is happiest, well-rested, and fed ... or when they're bound to fall asleep, if that works better. Each kiddo is different.
Give them some air flow. Sometimes that alone can be soothing.
Make sure there's not light in their faces regularly. Try out sunglasses or the static-cling or suction-cup (not roller bar) type of window shade.
*Some things can pose a risk if they go flying around in an accident, or even in the case of having to slam on the brakes. However, the risk to a child being forward-facing is so much more significant that I'd rather you hand your kiddo a cellphone than turn them forward-facing too soon.
When all else fails, remember that most babies and toddlers go through phases where they hate the car, but just like many other things they hate, their health and well-being take priority. Try to limit car rides if nothing else works, or even consider testing out a different car seat (if possible) because sometimes it's the seat they hate. Also remember that once baby gets a little older, you can put the car seat up to 35 degrees upright, instead of the 45 degrees infant seats require, which can help make them much, MUCH happier all on its own (though check your manual -- a few car seats don't allow this). Remember often the reason kiddos "are happier" being flipped around is because it's novelty. Novelty that is dangerous, and often they become unhappy again relatively soon.
What other ways do you help your kids stay happy in the car?