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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Using a Car Safety Seat after the First Year

Car trips can and should be a pleasant time for you and your child. This is an excellent time for pleasant conversation and for teaching your child acceptable and appropriate behavior in the car. Correct placement in an approved child restraint device is the safest mode of travel, even for short trips, for your child. If your child is over 1 year old and has not ridden in a car safety seat before, follow these guidelines to help your child get used to the safety seat.

  1. Introduce the car safety seat to your child in a calm, matter-of-fact manner as a learning experience. Allow him to touch it and check it out.

  2. Remind your child nicely about the rules of behavior before the first ride and between rides.

  3. Your first rides with the seat should be short practice rides, perhaps once around the block, to teach your child the expected and acceptable behavior. Point out interesting things that your child can see. Make it a positive experience for both of you.

  4. Praise your child often for appropriate behaviors. (For example: "Mike, you are sitting so quietly in your seat. Mommy is proud of you. You are a good boy....) Catch 'em being good. You cannot praise your child too often.

  5. Include your child in pleasant conversation. (For example: "That was sure a good lunch. You really like hot dogs." or "You were a big help to me in the store." or "It'll be fun visiting grandma....")

  6. This is also a good time to teach your child about the world. (For example: Callie, see that big, red, fire truck? Look at how fast it is going. What do firemen do? The light on the top is red. What else is red?") What you teach needs to be geared to the age of your child.

  7. With your frequent praise, teaching, and pleasant conversation, your child will remain interested and busy and will not spend his time trying to get out of the seat. He will give you his attention.

  8. Ignore yelling, screaming, and begging. The instant your child is quiet, praise her for being quiet. You also should not yell, scream, and beg. Remember to remain calm and matter-of-fact. Keep your child busy in conversation and observations of her world. Do not let your child out of the seat while you are traveling. This only teaches your child that yelling, screaming, and begging will finally get mom or dad to let her do what she wants.

  9. Older siblings should also be expected to behave appropriately. If the young child sees an older sibling climbing or hanging out the window, he will want to do it also. Older siblings should also be included in the conversation, praise, and teaching.

  10. Provide one or two toys that your child associates with quiet play, such as books, stuffed animals, or dolls. It may help to have special quiet riding toys that are played with only in the car. This decreases boredom. Remember, the young child's attention span is very short. Do not expect your child to stay occupied for more than a couple of minutes. Anticipating a short attention span will prevent thrown toys, temper tantrums, crying, or fussing.

  11. Reward your child with 5 to 10 minutes of your time in an activity that your child likes immediately after the ride. For example, you might read a story or play a game, or your child might help prepare lunch or put away the groceries. Do not get into the habit of giving your child favors or presents for her good behavior. She enjoys time with you and it's less expensive and more rewarding for both of you. Remember, catch 'em being good and praise your child often.

  12. If your child even begins to try to release the seat belt or to climb out of the car seat, immediately tell him "No" in a firm voice. On your first few trips, which should just be around the block, stop the car if necessary. Also, state the rule once, clearly, "Do not take off your seat belt." Discipline may be necessary if your child tries to get out of the seat.

  13. Remember, without praise and attention for good behavior in the car, your child will learn nothing from the training trips. The combination of praise and attention, with occasional discipline, can and will teach the behavior you want in the car.

If your vehicle has an airbag on the passenger side of the front seat, do not place your child in the front seat. The airbag can actually hurt your toddler. Bear in mind, though, that the vast majority of toddlers hurt by air bags were NOT properly restrained in a car seat.

Written by E. Christophersen, Ph.D., author of "Pediatric Compliance: A Guide for the Primary Care Physician."
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems