6 Ways to Prevent Your Child From Unbuckling His Car Seat

You're driving along with your toddler, maybe navigating rush hour traffic or veering around a particularly curvy road, when you hear that distinctive snap from the back seat -- the unmistakable sound of your little escape artist, nimbly undoing the harness of her car seat. You know, the one that's supposed to keep kids safe?


This scenario is all too familiar for moms of kids between 15 months to 2 years, says Sharon Silver, founder of ProactiveParenting.net and the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be. The reason? "Toddlers are all about power and who's in control," Silver says. "They're thinking, 'You might have put me in here, but I'm going to show you I can get out.'"

But hold tight. We've got expert strategies on how to get your wee one to stay securely buckled in until you say it's safe to get out of the seat:

  1. Keep calm. It might seem counterintuitive to not get annoyed or insistent. This is a safety issue, after all. But "unstrapping a car seat is a phase, and big reactions make phases last longer," says licensed social worker Sarah MacLaughlin, a parenting educator and author of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking With Young Children. "Calm down and focus on your relationship with your child. They're not out to get you, although it may seem like it."
  2. Be playful. When that car seat harness comes undone, make a game out of it. For instance, say, "Oh, no! We're in a rocket ship! We can't go until you strap back in!" "Use a fun tone of voice so your child thinks it's funny and plays along," MacLaughlin advises.

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  3. Go for a practice drive. Many toddlers learn better from repeat experiences than words, says Silver. To that end, go for a slow drive around your neighborhood or somewhere traffic is sparse. Each time your kiddo unsnaps, "immediately pull over,'" says Silver. "Don't say 'No,' or 'Don't.' Those words instigate a power struggle. Instead, say 'Uh oh!' which toddlers know to mean something is not okay." Then don't move the car again until they buckle back up.
  4. Let your child know there are consequences. Some kids will immediately catch on to the above lesson. For others, says Silver, you might need to take it a step further. "Let your child know exactly how unstrapping impacts them." Try: "Uh oh! Now we won't have time to go to the park. We'll try again tomorrow." If you encounter major drama (which you probably will), "be loving and accepting, but firm," Silver says.
  5. Distract, distract, distract. Don't have the time or energy to invest in the above strategies? (No judgment. It happens.) Then simply get your child's focus off the car seat and onto something else, suggests Yamalis Diaz, PhD, clinical assistant professor at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "Sing songs, have your child pick out a game or toy to play with in the car, or have them count the number of stores or houses you pass," says Diaz.
  6. Purchase a car seat clip. There are plenty made just for this reason. "But don't use it in a punitive manner," advises MacLaughlin. "Put it on matter of factly, like you'd put up a babygate."

If none of these solutions does the trick, "consider that your child simply gets motion sick in the car or even has a sensory issue," Diaz says. "Is the car seat buckle tickling them or rubbing somewhere that makes them uncomfortable?" Try covering their harness with a different material or talking to your pediatrician.

Has your child ever unbuckled his car seat? What did you do?

Image via Olesya Feketa/shutterstock

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