Getting Your Child to Ride in Their Car Seat


boy-reading-book-2Most young children simply do not like their car seats at first. Especially when they are a toddler and mobile, they love the freedom that being unattached to Mom and Dad can bring. They are unrestrained and unencumbered and can do whatever they want. Confinement in a car seat takes away all of that newfound freedom and puts them back under their parents’ control.  Let’s face it, freedom feels good and we don’t like to give it up!

One of our new mothers contacted MLJ and was very worried about her child’s response to car seat protocol: “He thinks it is fun to make me chase him around parking lots when we have to get into the car (which is dangerous and I have gotten concerned looks from passersby), and then he will not let me buckle him in his car seat and climbs around the inside of the car evading me. Meanwhile he is smiling and giggling, so he does not seem to be scared to ride in the car.”

Since riding in car seats is the law in every state, you have to remain firm on this one with your child. Riding in a car seat is non-negotiable. It also provides safety and security for the child and the driver in a situation which can potentially be a dangerous one.

You will probably need to calmly sit down with your child in the home and explain the importance of his car seat to him. Although he may not truly grasp the entire concept of safety, he will understand that you have him in his car seat because you love him and want him to be OK. Use developmentally appropriate language with him when discussing this. Show him pictures of other children in car seats to help normalize the process. Let him try out sitting in the seat while at home to get comfortable with how it feels. Be firm with the need for a car seat; be clear, direct and confident, but not angry. It is possible that your newly adopted international child never rode much in a car, and car seats likely were not required when he did. Take into consideration that this may be an entirely new experience for him and he just needs to familiarize himself with it.

Few toddlers want to be confined and restricted, which is what car seats do to them. So, they will cry and fight it until they know riding in a seat is absolutely non-negotiable. They can sometimes try to make it a game, but be serious that this is not a game, it is a requirement. Running away, enticing you to chase him, and vying for your attention is normal toddler behavior. They are kids and they want to have fun with you. Try giving your child a choice: “you can get up in your own seat by yourself or I can put you in it.” That gives him voice and some control in the situation. You can be empathetic and explain that you know he does not want to be in the seat, but it is the law and he has to do it. You may have to communicate more and talk about it in a more detailed manner. If you’ve discussed everything with your child and are sure he understands you, and he still refuses to ride in his car seat, you may need to go on one or two outings without him until he complies.

Remember, all children, and especially toddlers, test boundaries and try to gain control of the situation. In this situation, be consistent, calm and confident in your approach. Not only is your child trying to learn new skills, he is also still adjusting to many new things and even learning the rules of his new home. Give him some time and muster your patience. It will turn out OK. Soon he will enjoy traveling with you and will feel safe and secure in his special car seat!

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.