What if your toddler hates the car seat?

Since children sit in car seats from infancy, most get used to them quickly. But toddlers will be toddlers, and it’s not unusual for them to go through a phase where they hate their car seat. 

Remember that kids can’t handle long periods of boredom or staying in one place. Their bodies literally need to move. If they have to be in the car for a long time, they really need frequent breaks with movement and interesting things to explore. So break up your car trips as much as you can, and your child (and you) will both be happier.

If long car trips aren’t to blame, your next check is the car seat’s adjustment and comfort:

  • Pat down the seat thoroughly with your hands to ensure nothing is stuck in there, poking at your child or otherwise making them uncomfortable.
  • If your child is sensitive to textures (or even if they aren’t), a car seat cover like the NIKO can make a scratchy cover much more cozy. The plush fabric is great for winter warmth, and the cotton jersey feels cool in summer.
  • Make sure the safety straps are adjusted correctly. There’s a wealth of information at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Their deep dive into car seat installation and fit starts here

If your child’s issue with the car seat seems more mental than physical, you can use the power of association to make the car seat a positive experience.

  • Give them a low-key treat for a while every time they get into the car seat. Note—using food for rewards is a complicated issue, so consider using a food that your child likes, and that they might have eaten during a normal day. Rather than giving a special treat, you just delay a “normal” treat until it’s time to leave.
  • Place the car seat in your home and invite the child to sit in it for anything they enjoy, such as creative play (remember to use your NIKO to avoid a messy car seat), music time, or whichever toy is currently the favorite.
  • Find a stuffed toy or something soft that can be the “special” car toy. Hand it to your child every time they get into the car seat (whether in your home, or actually in the car).

We hope this list helps. Sometimes, we just have to grin and bear it when our kids complain (since the car seat is OBVIOUSLY not optional). If the problem continues for more than a week or two, take note, and consider talking to your pediatrician for more information about your child’s behavior and development.

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