Helping your toddler overcome car seat angst

Car seat Talk about positive reinforcement! Rachael's (@pineapplebabble) friendly but firm response to her daughter's car seat fussing:

Recently, my 18 month-old daughter, Pineapple, has been kicking up a fuss when it's time to get in the car seat. This had gotten to be near torture for her father and I who had to basically pin her down to strap her in and then endure her screams during the ride. Here's our strategy for managing her inevitable reaction to a car ride.

1. When she started to freak, we started to whisper. We found that whispering to her about what was coming up helped her calm down, as well. So, as we make our way to the car, we explain to her exactly what is about to happen and get her agreement.

2. We praise her for a job well done when she's gotten in the car seat without putting up a fuss. I realize that the folks at our neighborhood Safeway most likely think I'm insane but I've been known to burst into dance, clapping my hands, squealing and jumping around simply because Pineapple got in the car seat…without screaming.

3. We have "car seat toys." These are special toys she has selected for play while in the car seat only. She knows they are there and now asks for them and is excited to play in the car. And bonus, she's entertained during the ride!
This hack has saved our sanity and our eardrums. I hope it can help others!

Any more tips for helping toddlers get over their resistance to the car seat?


  1. says

    Hi There! We have a two special toys for the car, (one for each car). Both are music dogs, one is the Laugh & Learn Learning Puppy, and the other is from another brand, but basically she can play music touching the paws. Now, we call her BabyDJ, because she spends the entire time playing with her doggy! She used to be really fuzzy, but that really calm her down, and entertained her.

  2. Lisa says

    what we need is a hack for keeping our 4yr old in her Nautilus for a while longer – she’s only 32lbs and won’t be in a booster like her friends for a few more years.

    She’s starting to realize she’s still in a baby seat…

  3. ckstevenson says

    Someone named their child “Pineapple”? The name will give the child angst

  4. Lesley says

    any tips for the infant set who scream their hearts out? The crying breaks my heart and it’s gotten to the point where I don’t go anywhere without my husband :(

  5. Amy says

    Mine did that each and every time we took a car ride longer than about 10 minutes for the first three or so months of her life, unless someone could sit in the back seat with her (not often an option). Eventually she got used to it and now (she’s 9 months) she just goes to sleep most of the time. I don’t have any good solutions except to tell you they’ll grow out of it eventually.

  6. says

    our 2yo has started throwing tantrums over buckling the seat himself, which is fine if you have 30 minutes to spare because he can get it eventually it just takes a long time. but if i’m in a hurry he is adamant about “me do it buckle” and wails if we intervene or even get within a ten foot radius of him. now we’ve introduced the concept of “teamwork” where he does the sternum strap while i do the lower two crotch buckles. then we high five when it’s done. much smoother and no crying. YAY!

  7. Jessica says

    Is the baby in an infant seat or convertible? If the infant seat, many kids just HATE them and are happier once you make the switch.

  8. Gina says

    We couldn’t find a solution to that one either (singing, talking – nothing worked in those early weeks). She grew out of it after 9 weeks – that is when I went back to work and she had to ride by herself in the backseat. I can say that it will get better.

  9. says

    I used to keep a handpuppet in the car. The kids might not pay a lot of attention to me telling them what to do, but for some reason, they listened to the spotted giraffe talking puppet that appeared from over the front seat. Even if it sounded strangely like their mother…..

  10. Amy says

    A friend of mine used a white noise cd that they got for their first kid’s colic. The white noise was comforting to their second, non-colicky, kid.

  11. Liz Busby says

    Some people may hate this, but we’ve got the potty-training route on the carseat: I keep a package of tic-tacs in my purse and entice 1.5 year old into the car with promises of “carseat candy.” He loves it! When we first introduced it, I would offer him some candy before strapping him in, which definitely placated him. Then when he was more used to it, he had to wait and be a good boy while he got buckled in order to earn his candy. Now I only bring it up if he’s freaking out or if he remembers himself. Tic tacs are a good option, since on one trip of errands, he may get carseat candy 2-4 times. But at 2 calories each, who cares?

  12. says

    Good advice. My kids are now in booster seats, but I remember the two hour trips to my wife’s parents’ house, and my oldest son, then a baby, crying until he fell asleep. It was brutal!

  13. says

    Lesley, I had this issue with 2 of my children. It is heartbreaking. With my most recent baby, I kept tweaking the arrangement of his seat and straps. I even put a soft blanket under the car seat cover, putting a cushion layer on top of the hard plastic.
    In the end, though, basically it is something the baby just has to get past. Putting a toy on the window or the on the seat in front of baby for him to watch can help.
    Good luck, and don’t keep yourself as a prisoner in your home! Take care of yourself.
    The Been There Done That Mom

  14. says

    Wow, people, Mom is sharing her experience with car seat troubles and is not asking for judgment on the name choice for her child. Yeah, it’s odd, but each to his own. Not our job to judge.

    We also talk in whispers with my face very close to the child. I agree that it de-escalates the situation and that alone is often enough to curb a tantrum (with my kids at least) in any situation, not just the car seat. I dont’ negotiate, I just calmly keep repeating myself that it is time to buckle up. Our car seat troubles aren’t actually an issue with the seatbelts, but it is more an issue of overtired kids who are looking for an excuse to fuss.

    I have an assortment of dollar-store sunglasses that are ONLY for the car and they are hung over the magazine pocket on the back of the seat in front, on display and ready for choosing. After the child is buckled, kid can choose which one pair he/she wants to wear for that car ride. Then, we have the bucket of happy meal toys that never leave the car. Whichever kid did the best job getting in (or whoever’s turn was next) gets first pick of two toys. I dont’ care how much bickering had to go on to get in the seat, the glasses/toy reward is always there. The reward isn’t for being cooperative, it is what you get when you are buckled up. Since they are always buckled up, they always get the reward.

    I only tolerate the fuss so long, at which point I CALMLY climb up over the child, place my knee on the seat, between the kid’s legs right where the bottom buckle is, and buckle up. My weight is enough to prevent the child from getting loose through the tantrum and I am able to buckle without hurting the child or myself.

  15. Lesley says

    we moved him to the convertible and it improved a little but he’s still not happy

  16. Lesley says

    I’m taking heart that it will eventually get better…thanks, everyone!

  17. Johnna says

    I always said I was not going to be the mom who had a TV in the car, but like most things I thought pre-kid, I had to reevaluate that position. We have a half hour each way commute to daycare, and after over a year of Little Bit screaming…for an hour…every day, we finally gave in and got a DVD player. Yes, I’m sick of hearing Veggie Tales now, but I find I’m much more productive at work when my nerves aren’t on end.

    She also really didn’t like getting into the car seat. She gets an apple to eat while driving to and from school, and she doesn’t get it until after she’s buckled in. She might still throw a fit, but I just stand there and ignore her until she gives up. It doesn’t take long for her to stop when she realizes she’s not getting a rise out of me.

  18. Fern says

    We appointed our toddler Safety Officer of the car. After a brief discussion about how car seats and seat belts are there to keep you safe, we told him that it was his job to make sure everyone was safe before the car started to move. He, of course, loved having a job to do, was more cooperative with his own seat belt, and delighted in reminding me when I “forgot”.

  19. toni says

    One of our kids did that two. The only thing that calm him was playing very loudly one instrumental blues song. That put him to sleep. The second kid is less fussy in the car, but falls asleep to “I shall not be moved”, much more lullaby-like.

  20. Neen says

    Cleverest of women! There is nothing a toddler/pre-schooler loves more than an “Important Job!” is there?