Bianca: My daughter hates her car seat and I hate the crying
Some kids love being in their car seat that they refuse to get out of it, but others cry and throw a fit once buckled in. Bianca’s daughter happens to fall in the latter category. At her wits’ end, she contacted us to help make her daughter a happier traveller. In today’s article, Elise advises Bianca on the ways she can help her toddler, Georgina, get accustomed to her car seat.
Georgina's relationship with car seats has never been amicable. Now three-and-a-half-years-old, the little Houdini is onto her fourth car seat. She’d throw tantrums and attempt to bust out of it because she doesn’t want to be restrained in her car seat that makes her sweaty and stuffy. To help Georgina have a more positive approach towards car journeys, Bianca’s looking for another car seat that is perhaps more conducive to our tropical climate.
If you’re looking for ways to keep your little Houdini comfortable in their car seats, read further for Elise’s car seat recommendations and advice.
Hey Bianca, Elise here! Thank you very much for sending me through that information. I’ve spent the day thinking about your conundrum and I’m going to give some unsolicited opinion and advice. It’s not something that I usually do. But I’m going to tell you two things, one of those is in my capacity as a car seat technician, and the other is in my capacity as a mother of three. All kids and moms are different, and so you’re welcome to disregard everything that I’m about to say. This is not something you had specifically asked me about and you might not want to hear them, so I want to apologize for that in advance. The general message here is: yes, I’m going to show you a car seat recommendation because that’s what you asked for, but I don’t think that will solve your problem. I’m sorry for that but I think that your little girl is going to keep crying in her car seat regardless of which car seat she’s got. I truly believe that your time would be better spent working out how you can make that a bit more livable for you.
Why do some kids hate their car seats?
Before we get started with the car seat recommendations, let’s look at the (possible) reasons why kids dislike/cry in their car seats. There can be a few reasons for that, with developmental leap being one of the biggest culprits. When children undergo a developmental leap, they feel an urge to use their newfound physical abilities. Being restrained in a car seat just doesn’t align with that. Another reason could be that the car seat is too close to their faces, which may trigger sensory discomfort. Car seats can also be painful in places and of course, kids may cry in their car seats because they need to vent, and that's the avenue that they’ve chosen to vent. Lastly, some kids may hate their car seats for reasons that we might never understand.
Harnessed vs impact shield car seats
In terms of specific car seat recommendations, I think it’s very important that Georgina stays in a harnessed car seat (ref: image above). If you were to transition her into a booster seat—where it has the shell of a car seat without the harness—and she’s restrained only by the vehicle’s seatbelt, it is likely that she can bust out of the seat.
I recalled that you asked me specifically about my opinion on impact shield car seats and my answer is that they don’t perform well in rollovers because there is nothing to restrain the child down and in the seat. They do perform very well in standard crash testing and in frontal collision, and I’ll acknowledge that they help the body diffuse some of the crash forces. However, if you were to make some errors in installing an impact shield car seat—perhaps the shoulder straps were too low—then it can do significant damage to a child’s spine. Hence, I tend not to recommend them and I would personally go for the harnessed car seat.
The Britax Advansafix III SICT is one of the best forward-facing car seats on the market. It installs with ISOfix and a tether, which is awesome and super safe. It’s got additional side impact protection—again, super duper safe—but the rationale behind my choice is that it has less in the way of faff (bulky padding etc) around her face. This may help if she didn’t like her car seat because of the sensory discomfort triggered by the faff around her head and face. (Side note: This has been replaced by the Britax Advansafix iSize which is cooler).
Children and their emotions
Now, I put my professional credibility aside and I’m just Elise, a mother of three boys, talking to you. Like I alluded to before, all kids are different and all parents are different. Children can be quite good at self-regulating their emotions. In my experience, they’re like a kettle: when the steam builds up, they find an excuse to let that steam off. They can throw a tantrum because they got the orange ball instead of a blue one, or—my personal favourite—because I stop weeing on the toilet. He wanted me to keep weeing! They’re just going to find anything to get upset about because they need to have a good cry, to let those emotions self-regulate.
I’ve had a really hard time with their emotions at the beginning of my parenting journey. Our pediatrician recommended Janet Lansbury’s respectful parenting approach, which helped me immensely. Peter, my firstborn, is now five and the words I’d use to describe him are: sensitive, intense, clingy. He has significantly bigger meltdowns and emotional release than his brothers combined. Sometimes, it can be difficult for him to trigger those emotions and meltdowns. It could perhaps be the same for Georgina; she may also require more opportunities for emotional regulations than other kids, and she could be using her car seat as a trigger for that. The same goes for my kids! Some days they’re fine in their car seats and some days they scream for the entire journey and it’s— well, I don’t need to describe to you what it’s like. Anyway, suffice to say it, I know what it’s like and I’m sorry that you go through that each time you hop in your car.
Finding an alternative narrative for the meltdown has really helped me; I’ll try and see all these emotions from my kids in a positive light. I’ll tell them that what they’re doing is healthy, it’s going to make their nervous system more relaxed and when this is over, they won’t be in such a state of anxious flux. Sometimes, after spending a day at school and holding it together in front of his teachers and friends, my son lets go when he gets home around the people he feels safest with. He dissolves. All his seams come apart, and all of that studding that he’s been holding onto so tightly throughout the days just pours out. I know that he needs that, so I try to think to myself, “wow, you feel safer with me than anybody else and it’s a gift that you’re willing to share these dark, ugly, twisty emotions around me when perhaps you don’t feel comfortable and safe to share them with others”. I’ll try and acknowledge and accept their feelings, without feeling the need to fix them or make them go away because the feelings are what they are, and they will come and go. You’re doing an incredible job at keeping her in a car seat, especially in such trying circumstances. Your job is to put her in a car seat, but perhaps it’s not your job to fix the crying that happens when she’s in her car seat.
We definitely have our bad days as well, and when that happens I’ll think about the message that I want to send across to my boys. I want them to know that I’m not going to judge them and instead I’m going to accept their emotions. So when they’re older and something bad is happening—maybe they’re bullied or depressed about something or they’ve relationship issues—I want them to feel like they can come and talk to me. I want them to feel that they can share their dark, twisty, ugly, uncomfortable emotions with me and I won’t try to make them stop. I won’t say, “I don’t want to hear that. I get really uncomfortable when you show me these emotions so I’d like you to stop and I’m not going to be here to listen to them.” This is something that works for me, I try to build a new narrative where this is my training ground for the future—teenagerhood. If I’ve helped in anyway, hurray, but I’m sorry for taking up your time if I’ve just given you a bunch of unwelcome and unsolicited advice. I hope you've a good night. Bye! xx
Bianca went along with Elise’s suggestion and bought the Britax Advansafix for Georgina. She's been loving her car seat since then and no longer cries in it anymore. Car rides to school with her sister are no longer dreadful and challenging! And also, Bianca sent a heartfelt message to Elise:
“Elise, I just wanted to say that you’ve reached out in such a way that I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed and touched. I’m very grateful that you’ve spent most parts of your day thinking about my conundrum, and how you moved beyond just the requirement for a car seat recommendation to the nuts and bolts of my situation. You really put your neck on the line. I think it’s so endearing in the way that you’ve put everything across to me and how you have so gently and so gracefully considered me, and made the recommendations for Janet Lansbury. Your message really resonates with me: I love, cherish and want to always instill in my children the sense of belonging and significance. Sometimes as a mummy, we become unstuck and I think that it’s only then that you have the opportunity to have your greatest awakening. You’ve really helped me more than you’d probably ever know and I'm very grateful.”
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