We’re in the car often, and usually for longish stretches of time (by that I mean over an hour). We live in the city and are constantly escaping on weekends, whether it’s to visit friends in the burbs or see family, go to the beach or lake or go apple picking or the aquarium or wherever. We’re constantly on the move. Being in a car for an hour-plus with a toddler is hard enough, but recently we’ve had trouble getting our toddler to stay in his car seat. He can’t completely get out (thank god), but he can get his arms out of the top straps. This not only enables him to reach the window switch but also the door lock and handle. Once he even managed to open the door. Even with child locks in play, it’s not safe though. If we got into an accident, the car seat wouldn’t be nearly as effective without him fully strapped in. Needless, to say, I’ve been furiously googling how to get your toddler to stay in their car seat?
Trying to get James back in the straps from the front seat is not fun and pretty ineffective when he just breaks his arms back out and thinks its a game. After a particularly intense session of struggling to keep my little Houdini’s arms in the carseat, maybe yelling a few times and getting slapped a few (which is a whole ‘nother blog post coming soon), all while sitting in classic NYC traffic (and listening to football, my fave, eye roll), I was ready to lose it. So as soon as I got James down for the night, I started searching for solutions, because honestly, I can’t do this for every car ride.
I immediately felt better realizing I’m definitely not alone in this struggle. Starting around 18 months, this seems par for the course. And that means there are a lot of inventive mamas out there coming up with smart solutions and hacks. Here’s what I found to be most helpful when it comes to getting a toddler to stay in their car seat. (Disclaimer: I’m not a safety expert and these are not sanctioned by a safety expert.)
Tighten the straps. Although this isn’t genius, the experts will tell you that you need to tighten the straps so your child can’t break free. There shouldn’t be any space between the child and the strap. A good test is to make sure you can’t fit more than two fingers between your child and the straps. Ours are pretty tight, but I am going to look into whether they could be tighter. One directive I did find helpful is to put your child in the seat without their jacket on to ensure the harness is on properly and tight enough. Depending on what James is wearing the car seat straps fit differently, so now we have the straps adjusted to fit him without a jacket or sweatshirt and we take off any outerwear before sticking him in.
Have plenty of distractions on hand. Another expert suggestion is distraction (duh) — have plenty of toys and games on hand so they don’t get bored and try to escape. We have an entire backseat of toys that we keep in the car just for car rides, but he’s pretty much over most of them at this point and they only last so long. I’m going to try finding some new ones to throw in the mix and maybe look for one of those iPad holders for the back of the seat to play Elmo (his fave) or other YouTube vids he loves. I also find snacks are a very good distraction. Btw, I have an entire post on taking road trips with a toddler that has more tips and tricks.
Get them to buy into the harness. It’s hard to reason with a two year old, but trying to make getting into the car seat and the whole harness strapping in part more fun could help. One suggestion was to make a song out of it, which I’m definitely going to try because James loves doing things to songs (like cleaning up and brushing his teeth). While I’m not sure if this will help keep him in the straps, maybe if he buys into getting into the car and getting strapped in, he’ll be more likely to stay in place. I’m also thinking a song can help get him back in the harness if he does wiggle his way out.
The Button Down Shirt Trick. This is a genius tip from The Car Seat Lady that is by far the most effective solution I’ve come across. So basically you strap the kid in wearing a button down shirt and then you button the buttons over the car seat straps so that they have to unbutton the shirt in order to get the straps off. This is a pain so I only do this for long car trips but it does work (although getting it all buttoned up can sometimes lead to tantrums and screaming). He does try to get the buttons unbuttoned but they’re hard so he usually gives up. The unfortunate consequence is he ends up screaming a lot more during the ride, but at least I know he’s safe.
Use a strap holder. The most popular solution I found is an invention to help keep those straps in place. I don’t know how safe these are and many experts say not to use without checking with the carseat manufacturer, so I would definitely do more research into these, but there are ones available on the market that are supposedly designed to fix this problem.
Any other solutions that have worked for you?