There’s nothing more frustrating than driving down the road with a screaming child throwing a tantrum in a car seat. We’ve all been there, and as a driver and parent you feel helpless and distracted, unless you can pull over and check on your little one. At times car seat tantrums will be unavoidable, but let us help you with some car seat safety tips that may help to make your next car trip more pleasant for both you and your child.
First off, what are the latest guidelines for car seat safety?
- Infants car seats are rear facing
- Toddlers car seats are forward facing
- Older children use booster seats
These guidelines have to do with the specific weight and height of your child. Because different states may have different laws or requirements, it is recommended that you review the guidelines for your state at the Governor’s Highway Safety Association website, which was just updated in May 2015: http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/childsafety_laws.html
So, keeping in mind that we as adults get tired and bored on long car rides and sometimes feel our seatbelt interferes with our comfort, we also know that we have the ability to adjust and control our impulses (or so we hope). But, little kids often cannot cope and need our help as adults to make car rides as pleasurable and non-boring as possible.
Car Seat Safety Tips for Infants
- Use a sunshade or screen on your window near your baby to keep bright sunlight out of his eyes.
- Car seats with 5 point harnesses should fit snugly around your baby and this feeling can sometimes be comforting as it makes her feel secure, almost as if she’s being swaddled.
- Since your infant is rear facing and cannot see you, it if comforting to your baby if you speak or sing to him during your ride.
- Check the temperature, because if your baby is too hot or too cold this may cause fussiness or agitation in the car seat. Also you may need to make winter to summer strap adjustments to account for additional clothing.
- Provide a mirror and small toys that are connected and that she can’t drop and lose, so there is something to play with during the ride.
- Remember that if your baby cries, it is ok to let them cry for a bit as long as you have ascertained that they are not in pain. Removing them from their car seat or stopping every time a baby cries is just teaching them that all they have to do is cry and they can avoid a car trip or be removed from their seat restraints and this is certainly not beneficial in the long run.
Car Seat Safety Tips for Toddlers
- As your child grow into a toddler car seat challenges can become more evident, but distraction still works well at this age and toddlers need to be kept busy during car rides! Be sure to bring, books, toys (ouch-less soft toys that won’t hurt you if they get flung into the front seat by an unruly toddler!), and music that your child enjoys in the car and engage with your child during the ride by singing along or playing games such as I Spy- “Let’s look for a red car”.
- Most toddlers can eat something that is a non-choking hazard while in the car, or sip from a spill proof straw or spouted cup.
- Children over 18 months old should have enough understanding of language that you can begin to teach simple rules for car behavior and repetition and reinforcement of these rules are key. Toddlers learn by repetition and learn by consequences. Help your child understand that when she rides in the car she always sits in her car seat and gets buckled in.
- Use rewards if needed, but not bribes. For example when your child is particularly well behaved in the car reward him with a favorite snack or small toy. But don’t bribe your child with “If you stop crying I’ll give you a cookie” which may only reinforce more crying the next time he rides in the car with the sole aim of getting a cookie. You want your child to learn that appropriate behavior gets rewarded.
- Some toddlers want the control of the buckles and snaps on their car seats, so in order to give them more control you can let them snap a few buckles and praise them for being a “Big boy” or a “great helper”.
- You can keep a sticker book or chart in the car and at the end of successful car rides let your child put a sticker in the book. Determine how many stickers to collect per week in order to get a special reward, even if it’s reading a special story with Daddy only or playing on the playground a ½ hour longer than usual (it does not have to be a store bought reward to make them happy).
- You can read books about car trips and reinforce safety with toddlers.
- You can make a book with your car trip routine & car seat rules using digital photos and a small Dollar Store photo album. Place the photos in order of the steps you take in order to go in the car. Perhaps a photo of your child putting his coat on, a photo of the car in the garage, a photo of the car seat empty, a photo of the child before buckled in, a photo of child buckled in, a photo of arriving at the grocery store, a photo of the sticker reward, etc. Go over this photo routine with your child daily, especially before a car ride.
- If your child does have a tantrum while riding in the car, remember, the calmer you remain, the better off you’ll be in the long run. If you give your child attention for a tantrum (in or out of the car) it is apt to continue and may be longer or more severe the next time. Ignore all tantrums when possible.
- If your child wriggles out of his shoulder straps or unbuckles himself, for safety reasons this does need dealt with quickly. Find a safe place to pull over and be firm and matter of fact that shoulder straps stay on (tightening may be all that’s required) and buckles stay buckled. For chronic un-bucklers, they do make safety devices to prevent this: Seat Belt Buckle Covers
Car Seat Safety Tips for Older Children
According to www.safekids.org , you should use a booster seat with the vehicle lap AND shoulder safety belts until your child passes the following Safety Belt Fit Test:
- The child’s knees should bend at the edge of the seat when his or her back and bottom are against the vehicle seat back; and
- The vehicle lap belt should fit across the upper thighs; and
- The shoulder belt should fit across the shoulder and chest. Children are usually between 8 and 12 years old when the seat belt fits them properly.
Because older children get weighed and measured less often than infants and toddlers, be sure of your child’s height and weight in order to determine the need for a booster seat or when they can transition to sitting in the regular seat using the lap and shoulder belt.