Your toddler’s sudden hatred of the car seat

Using the family car as a way of taming a furious or over-tired toddler is such a common strategy that it’s a car commercial stereotype, but there are a few toddlers here and there who don’t seem to have gotten the message. If your toddler is less likely to peacefully drift off to sleep in the car than he is to scream himself blue in the face, you’re not alone.

No, it’s not some secret, toddler conspiracy. In fact, there are a wide range of reasons why toddlers might want to wage war against their car seats – even if they used to have no problem riding in the car, or even enjoyed it. There are a few common categories of reasons that might contribute to a hatred for motor-travel, though.

Is he comfortable?

Baby is growing fast, and if his car seat straps aren’t expanding with him, he might be associating riding in the car with getting squished. If he is growing especially fast, he might even have passed the weight limit for how long he should be riding in a rear-facing car seat, and be ready to turn around and face forward, so it’s worth checking his current weight against the weight limits for his car seat. Beyond that, if it’s just turned warm in your part of the world, he might be getting overheated – car seats provide a lot more insulation than adult seats, and toddlers generally don’t have as much control over the windows or air conditioning.

Would he rather be on the move?

If your toddler would rather be running, jumping, or climbing, getting strapped into a car seat can feel like the worst part of his day. Getting into the habit of breaking up long trips with regular breaks so that he can get out and walk around can help to build new associations with car rides. And if you’re a parent who feels like a little bribery can go a long way, you can try letting him pick out a brand-new car-toy or two – he will pick something fun and interesting he wants to play with, and if he wants to play with his car toys, he may start to find that car rides aren’t so bad.

Has he been experiencing separation anxiety?

Getting upset about being strapped into a car seat isn’t an obvious way for separation anxiety to reveal itself, but even though you’re in the car with him, if he is in a rear-facing seat, there’s no guarantee that he always trusts that fact. Doing a sing-along, or starting a conversation with him as you’re buckling him in, and then keeping on talking to him as you drive can help to remind him that you’re right there with him. You can also consider setting up a mirror so that he can see you from the back seat.

Does driving make him feel out-of-control?

A lot of things that happen to toddlers are outside their control, but being put into the car and strapped into a seat can be one of the most regular ones that take away their control over their bodies. One way to handle this lies in his growing language skills – he might be at the age where just talking through what’s happening and why you need to strap him in could be helpful (though don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t help – he’s still pretty young). Toddlers Baby’s age often have trouble with transitions, so warning him about what’s going to happen (even if it might feel easier to put off telling him about your trip until the last possible second) and letting him have a chance to pick out which toys to bring with him might give him back a sense of control over the process.

In the end, Baby’s protests over the car seat might or might not even be about the car seat at all – the car seat might just be the hill that he has chosen to battle for his independence on. On the other hand, it might be all about the car seat. Rear-facing car seats are the safest way for children to travel until they pass the weight limit for rear-facing seats, but that doesn’t make toddlers like them much. If it’s the rear-facing car seat that’s bothering him, there’s a good chance that he will perk right up when it’s time to turn his convertible seat so it’s forward-facing. This doesn’t mean the seat should be turned around any sooner than it has to be, since it’s still the safest way for toddlers to travel, but if this is the problem, the end is in sight.

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