Toddler Refuses to Get in the Car Seat: What to Do

toddler in car seat

Whether you're driving to grandma's or the grocery store, nothing slows you down like a toddler who refuses to get in his car seat. No matter how much you coax and threaten, it's always a struggle to strap his jackknifing body into the harness. And if he's savvy enough to unbuckle himself mid-ride, you're really in trouble. Still, if it's any consolation, know that you've got plenty of company.


"Most toddlers don't like car seats," says Scott Carroll, MD, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. And their motives can vary widely, from a play for control to plain old discomfort. Figuring out how to solve the problem depends on the reason your toddler's resisting, so try these tips so you can get on the road without a fuss:

Make sure the car seat is comfortable. Toddlers grow fast. So ask yourself: when's the last time you made sure those straps around his body are snug but not strangling him? "Oftentimes the seat hasn't been properly adjusted to their size recently, so it is uncomfortable," says Carroll. For safety reasons, the harness should be tight enough that you can't pinch anything around the shoulder area, but it shouldn't be digging into your toddler's skin, either. Also keep in mind that in the summertime, the seat buckles and straps can get really hot and burn their skin, so be sure to check and make sure that's not happening, either.

Give your toddler something to do. Many toddlers hate car seats because they get bored back there. Instead, give them something to look forward to. Say, "Once you get in the car, I'll play your favorite CD" or promise them a favorite toy or game to play so they aren't just back there twiddling their thumbs.

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Shift their focus to the destination. Most times, toddlers are eager to get to where you're going, so if that's the case, make it clear that you guys aren't going anywhere until they're in their seat.

Don't bother lecturing on car seat safety. Sure, you may know how important car seats are to your child's safety, but don't bother trying to reason with your toddler on this topic or explaining the dangers -- it will fly right over his head.

If nothing works, get down to business. Tell your child, "By the count of 10, if you don't get in your car seat, I will put you in your car seat." Then, if that doesn't get your toddler with the program, it's time to pick him up. "A no-nonsense approach to this is to just put your toddler in the seat and buckle him in," says Blythe Lipman, a baby and toddler expert in Scottsdale, Arizona, and author of Help! My Toddler Came Without Instructions. "This is in no way to suggest using excessive force, just a quick and easy, 'I'm putting you in your carseat so we can go to Grandma's' is enough."

What's the hardest thing to get your toddler to do?


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