“Don’t unbuckle your seatbelt!”
“Stay in your car seat!”
“Stop screaming, Mommy is trying to drive!”
Do these sound familiar? It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to be driving down the road while their child is screaming and/or climbing out of their car seat. Children who have been adopted from another country have often spent a lot of time in an orphanage, and have never been in a car seat before. This could be a new, and scary experience for them: imagine never even seeing a car seat before, and now having to be strapped in and confined in one. This can cause children to hate being in their car seat. However, it is the law, and children need to be safe while riding in a vehicle, so parents have to teach their children the importance of car seats. While it is important to understand that every child will react differently to riding in a car seat, here are some helpful tips to make car rides a little easier.
- If your child is a little older, communicate with them about the importance of car seat safety. Explain to them why they have to sit in the seat, and let them know that it is a rule they have to follow. Be consistent and let them know what is expected of them every time they ride in a car, no matter the distance you are going. If they do not follow the rules, stop the car and do not drive until they buckle their seat belt. Use short phrases to communicate that you want them to be safe because you love them, and stay positive. If you get irritated, the child may not respond well and will continue with the behavior. It can be really difficult, but positive communication is key! On the other hand, if your child does something positive, or is doing what they are supposed to be doing, make sure to praise them for it! If they receive praise for following the rules, they are more likely to continue the positive behavior. It can be as simple as, “Great job buckling your own seat belt!” or “I’m proud of you for staying buckled in your car seat!”, and this helps them understand the different reactions when they follow the rules versus when they don’t.
- Practice makes perfect, right? Help your child get used to riding in their car seat by taking practice car rides. If you can, take short car rides to the park or somewhere else that is fun. If you reach your destination without any troubles, reward your child by letting them play at the park or picking out a movie for the family to watch. Another way to practice would be to bring the car seat inside or have an extra one inside that they can play with. They can buckle their dolls or stuffed animals in the seat or practice buckling by themselves, to become more familiar and comfortable with it. If they can buckle themselves, use that to your advantage and have them practice doing it. Now, when they get in the car you can provide them with a choice of buckling themselves or having you do it. They are likely to cooperate better if they can have some control over the situation (by giving them a choice). Practice role playing! You can set up a pretend car (and radio etc.), go on a pretend trip, and practice the steps they need to take to stay safe in the car. Not only is this fun for your child, they are learning the importance of car seat safety!
- Make the ride fun! If children are distracted by music, a movie, or fun car game, they won’t have time to worry about being buckled in. If they stay in their car seat, as a reward, let them pick out a CD at the store so they can listen to it while you drive. Research some interactive car games that could keep them busy and also help them learn! Some fun activities include: I spy, share funny stories, have a spelling bee (for older children), play 20 Questions, or have their favorite books in the car. Give your child something to look forward to when they have to ride in their car seat. If they can associate car rides and their car seat with a favorite book or toy, it may be easier for them to adjust to the seat. This association could help make car rides a more enjoyable experience for your child.
- On the other hand, car seat safety is a very serious concern. We want our children to have fun, but we also need them to stay safe. It’s important to be firm and let your child know that there are consequences if they do not stay buckled. If they continue to unbuckle while you are on your way to the park or a birthday party, for example, pull over until your child understands that they have to stay buckled if they want to participate in the fun activity. If they will not comply with this rule, it may be that you will have to take them home versus going to the park or the birthday party. If you are consistent with this, they will learn that riding properly in their car seat is the only permitted way to travel in the car. By using activities or places that they want to go, they learn that they will not get to do what they want if they do not follow the rules.
- Their safety is the priority! Before a car ride, short or long, have a plan. Plan the strategies you will try when your child is unbuckling while the car is moving. Plan to have certain toys, books, movies, or CD’s in the car to use as a distraction. Plan to have specific consequences if they continue to disobey the rule, and make sure to stay consistent with your consequences! Having a plan will not only benefit your child, it will help you during these tough situations.
Being a parent is hard work! There are a million thoughts running through your mind on a daily basis, and the last thing you want to worry about is your child unbuckling their seat belt while you are driving 50 mph! Remember that this is a new experience for many children who have been adopted from another country. Make sure to allow your child enough time to become comfortable with their car seat and help them through this new and possible scary experience. Also, don’t forget to communicate, stay positive, calm, and consistent when your child is not behaving in the car. Finally, remember to just hang in there. You’ve got this!
Allegra Waymire is in an intern at MLJ Adoptions as part of her Bachelor’s of Social Work studies at IUPUI. Upon graduation in the spring of 2018, Allegra hopes to use her degree to work with children and families through adoption or the foster care system.
Photo Credit: Mark Skipper