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Two of my three kids hated their car seats – HATED. With my first car seat hater, I coped with the avoidance method. In other words, I avoided driving and bringing my little one anywhere unless it was absolutely necessary.
When I had my third baby, I realized again I had a car seat hater on my hands. I was not ready to be cooped up in my house until he was over this phase that can last with some babies until they’re big enough to forward-face – which is not recommended *until they outgrow the height/weight limits of their car seat, and that is not for a very long time, especially if you have the Graco Extend 2 Fit Convertible Car Seat. But that’s actually a good thing because the longer we keep our little ones rear facing, the longer they stay better protected if there’s a car accident.
*FYI: The AAP just updated their car seat recommendations.
Also, not driving anywhere is no longer an option because my two older kids are in school, and we have car pool, sports, doc appointments, grocery shopping, etc.
So, what did I do to make car rides more bearable for my baby and myself (besides the obvious of making sure baby is fed, well-rested, and clean diaper)?
1. Understand that it’s not baby’s fault that he hates his car seat.
I know this seems so simple and unimportant, but I do think this helps. If we understand that it’s not their fault, it means we have more empathy and patience to figure out what is causing so much angst.
Because it could be any number of things that bothers baby, some may not even be related to the car seat or being in the car:
- too hot or too cold
- the material or buckles doesn’t feel good on their skin
- over-stimulated or under-stimulated
- uncomfortable positioning
- sun is too bright
- separation anxiety
- sound is too quiet or too loud
- weird smells may also be a bother
- Motion sickness
You get the picture. It really could be any of these, or a combo of things that are bothering them. Some of them do seem minor, but also when we understand that it must be so frustrating to them, to be constantly strapped into this thing that they hate, it’s easier for us to keep calm, show sympathy, and give comfort, instead of adding our own stress to baby’s stress and frustration.
2. Get somebody else to drive, and go for a ride in the back seat next to your baby.
This can give a little more perspective about what might be bothering your baby.
- Does it feel comfortable temperature wise?
- Is the sun coming in and making it too hot or too bright? (These are the shades I use in my backseat. They stay on well and keep my little one from overheating.)
- How’s the music volume? The volume of your music perfect as the driver, but maybe it’s too loud in the back. I’ve noticed the bass in my car is louder in the back seats, and does bother my kids sometimes if I don’t adjust it.
Also, notice if your baby stays calmer with you next to him – the car seat issues, could just be separation issues because he can’t see you when you’re sitting up front. Sometimes adding on a baby car seat mirror can help with this when you’re driving, and the mirror also gives baby something interesting to look at.
3. Invest in a few special toys just for car rides.
I have several toys set aside specifically for car rides, and I rotate them periodically. Having something different to look at and hold for each car ride seems to help a little bit. Some of my babies’ favorites include:
- O Ball Flex ‘n Go Activity Arch (This activity arch can hook onto the car seat to add on whatever toys you would like. Just make sure it can be hooked securely because it may not work for every car seat.)
- Bright Starts Lots of Links (The activity arch comes with some links, but it’s nice to have the extras, in case some get lost and to make the chains longer if necessary. They’re also a great sensory toy without any extra toys attached.)
- Lamaze Freddie The Firefly and Lamaze Captain Calamari (definite favorites of my kids. They can be used alone as snuggle buddies, or you can clip them to your car seat handle with the links so they don’t get lost.)
- Manhattan Winkel Rattle and Teether (Also a favorite, especially around 3 months old when they first start holding onto things.)
- Nuby Silicone Teethe-eez Teether with Bristles, Includes Hygienic Case (This one was their favorite teether! And I loved it because it came with a case to keep it clean.)
- Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy (Another huge favorite.)
4. Try different audible distractions: different songs/styles of music or white noise.
Sometimes music helps little ones stay calm during a car ride. Your baby may love it if you sing to them yourself – they are used to your voice and prefer it over all others.
Or you can just turn on some tunes with Pandora and Spotify, and there are so many music choices you can try besides the usual baby/toddler music. Although, I try to stick to music that is happy and upbeat, or calming and relaxing – I save Snoop Dogg for when I’m by myself or while baby is sleeping 😉
Other times baby might prefer white noise over music. There are some great white noise apps, and YouTube has videos of vacuum sounds, ocean waves, or any other white noise you can think of.
I’ve also resorted to making my own white noise at times by making the sound “wow” over and over. I know this sounds super weird, and your going to feel a little loony if you try this, but for some reason it worked almost every time my youngest started flipping out during car rides.
5. When all else fails, upgrade to a convertible.
I know it’s not always convenient to upgrade, but I found that with both of my car seat haters that once we switched to a convertible car seat, car rides went a lot smoother. I don’t know if it’s because they were up higher and could see better – although, I wouldn’t think the view would be that much different, as they’re still rear facing – or if it was because the new car seat was more comfortable, but when I did make the switch I wished I had done it sooner.
I tried out a few different convertible car seats for my 14-month-old, and without turning this post into a review of all of the car seats, I’ll just let you know we went with the Graco Extend 2 Fit. My little one seems the most comfortable in it, and I love all of the safety features and the way it easily adjusts as he grows. It also supports rear-facing until 50 pounds, which is higher than most convertible seats. And most importantly, my little one went from car seat hater to car seat tolerater – he’ll actually play and relax, and sometimes even sleep in the car now.
It is HARD when you’re baby hates his car seat, but you are a mom (a damn good mom! Especially if you made it all the way through this long post about how to help your baby deal with car seats!) and you will figure this out.
There is light at the end of this car seat hating tunnel!
Also, I know this is such an overused phrase for this season of life but, “This too shall pass.” I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but don’t stress! Your little one will develop, grow and eventually be okay with riding in the car.
How does your baby feel about his/her car seat? Feel free to share your tips and tricks!