Getting a toddler strapped into a car seat requires more than supermom brilliance. It requires godlike patience, superhuman strength, and creativity that rivals J.K. Rowling.

If you have a toddler, you know this.

I’m currently on my second toddler. When my oldest was a toddler, I just didn’t drive anywhere ever, because you can do that when you have only one kid. Now, however, I’m forced to drive places like the school so I can do important things like pick up my older child from school before she gets sent to afterschool care. (The necessity of driving, in this instance, is my fault for not living close enough to walk to the school. Actually we could walk to the school if the toddler woke up from his nap in time to get there. So I take that back: actually it’s his fault.)

At any rate, I frequently find myself in a situation when I have 5 minutes to get somewhere that’s 15 minutes away and my toddler isn’t in the car yet. And I’m forced to bribe, fight, urge, and wrestle him into his seat so we can go wherever we have to be. Here are just a few of the methods I’ve attempted.

But I’ll give you fair warning: None of these really work.

1. Offer a bribe.

Best choice: chocolate. Second choice: french fries. Third choice: chips. If none of those are available, good luck. Make sure you don’t give the bribe until after the child is sitting down and strapped into the seat. That’s obvious, right? And, of course, make sure you’re strapping him in correctly, because chances are approximately 72% that you’re not. Sorry about that.

2. Distract.

If no bribe is available, distraction will sometimes work. Sometimes giving the toddler the car keys will work, which is useful since I always have them with me, but also not so useful because then I have to take them away in order to drive the car. Just don’t give him a toy that’s not approved for use in the car seat, which means basically all toys, because any toy could turn into a projectile weapon in the event of a crash. So unless it’s an extremely soft toy with absolutely no plastic parts (and what toddler likes those?), you should take it away before you start driving the car. So you can temporarily distract him, but then you have to torture him by taking it away. Screaming will ensue. Sorry about that.

3. Bounce/hop/leap/fly.

Offer choices. Ask the toddler whether he wants to hop like a bunny into his car seat, or fly like a bird, or leap like Superman, or jump like a frog, or climb like a cat. Encourage him to make the appropriate noises while you help him into the car seat in the chosen manner. Bonus: as he’s climbing into the seat in his chosen manner (a process that usually takes about 27.3 minutes), you’ll have plenty of opportunity to observe how stable the car seat is. If it wiggles as he’s climbing on it, it’s not installed correctly. Which means you should take him out and start over, which means you will definitely be late for school pickup. Sorry about that.

4. Race.

This only works if you have more than one kid getting into the car at the same time, and it’s usually only effective for the older kid. However, older toddlers will sometimes care if their sibling gets strapped in faster than they do. The downside of this method is that it encourages your toddler to compare himself to his big sibling, which can only be a bad thing. Especially if the older sibling is forward facing (as is likely) and your toddler is still rear facing (as he probably should be). When your toddler realizes that his sibling gets to face forward, he may scream to do the same. The sibling may scream to face backward. Unfortunately, switching directions wouldn’t be safe for anybody, so you just have to deal with the screaming. Sorry about that.

5. Create an imaginary scene.

Tap into your toddler’s imagination to persuade him into the seat — and the more elaborate the imaginary scene, the better. At one point I put a sticker on my daughter’s seat and told her it was an egg and she was its mother and she had to sit on it to keep it warm. (Miraculously, this worked for weeks.) Recently, I told my son that the carseat was actually a train seat and once he was strapped in it would say chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo and take him to visit Santa. (Obviously my creative powers have declined as the number of children in my family has increased.) This method is brilliant and doesn’t have any downside that I know of, but it almost never works. Sorry about that.

6. If nothing else works, wrestle.

More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve had to resort to the hated standby of mothers of toddlers: wrestle him bodily into place and hold him down while I strap him in. This feels horrible. It feels like I’m torturing my child and teaching him that might is right and it’s okay to physically force people to do something they don’t want to do and probably injuring him in the process.

But at least I let him talk about it afterward. I validate his feelings and tell him he has every reason to be mad at me and I’m really sorry that I forced him into his seat. Despite the fact that I only did it so we could get to the farmer’s market before it closes and buy him a popsicle.

That’s close enough to Supermom, right?

If this post makes you worry about your car seats, get them professionally checked! Or if you’re in Atlanta, get them checked by my friend here. She didn’t ask me to say this. I just think she’s awesome. 

Image by SoloParaMama, used under creative commons. 


lisacbakerJune 25, 2014 3:59 pm

How do YOU get your toddler in the car seat?

lisacbakerJune 27, 2014 12:07 pm

Car seats and toddlers are a bad combination.

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