Q: My 1-year-old baby screams and cries if he's buckled in a car seat. What can I do?
A: Car seat protests are totally normal -- and even expected -- at this age. Babies who are beginning to develop exciting new skills like walking don't like being restrained. But while we can be flexible about some parenting issues, safety -- and car seats -- aren't among them. The first thing to do is to prepare your child as much as possible. Let him know in a calm voice that you understand how he hates getting into the car seat but that he has to -- it's a rule because it keeps him safe. While he may not fully understand your words, he'll pick up on your empathetic tone, and over time, he'll grasp the full meaning.Many children dislike the car seat because they don't like having it forced on them, so find other ways to give them a sense of control. You can give him a choice about something to bring in the car -- a healthy snack, book, or small toy. Better yet, put together a bag of special toys just for car rides, but avoid negotiating or bribing him. ("If you sit down, you can have ice cream when we get home.") Doing this rewards him for his protest and teaches him he can bargain with you.When your kid objects to being buckled in, stay calm and firm, but avoid getting angry, which will likely make him more agitated. Ignore his screaming and flailing as much as possible, and calmly explain to him, "I am going to hold you firmly now so I can get your car seat buckled and keep you safe." Then gently secure him in his seat. The more calmly you deal with this, the quicker he is likely to cooperate. If he acts up during the car ride, divert him by talking about what you see as you drive, putting on some music he enjoys and singing along, or telling him stories. With some trial and error, you'll find what works.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, May 2005. Updated 2009.