True story: Holly was a tentative mom, someone who avoided setting limits. Holly told me she was having an impossible time getting three-year-old Eliza to sit in her car seat. Eliza screamed and refused to cooperate. I recommended to Holly that she say, “I know you don’t want to, but you must sit in your car seat” and then place Eliza into the car seat as gently and calmly as she could. Holly reported back to me that when she had insistently placed Eliza in the car seat, Eliza kicked and screamed. Then, as Holly started the car in complete dismay, Eliza said softly, “That’s what I wanted you to do.” (From A Toddler’s Need For Boundaries – No Walk In The Park)
Being clear and direct is the kindest, most respectful way to handle non-negotiable issues like car seats. Toddlers just want to know what we expect. They need to feel confident that we will consistently, calmly follow through (well before we get impatient or angry) and be assured that any negative reaction they have is understood by us. Here’s more…
I’m the proud mother of an adorable 15 month old son. Our home is very baby-proofed so he is free to move and explore his surroundings without hearing a series of “no’s”. We also maintain a very consistent schedule so he transitions between eat, sleep, and play periods with ease. Our problem is the car seat. He HATES it.
About 70 percent of the time I try to put him in his car seat he has a full blown tantrum. He has always really hated riding in the car, but I have a feeling that I might be exacerbating the issue by occasionally letting him explore the car and pretend to “drive”. (The keys aren’t in the ignition and I’m right by his side the entire time.) I’m wondering if I’m doing him a disservice by sending mixed messages.
He currently doesn’t say any words, so I’m not sure how much he would understand if I said “today we’re riding- not playing”. I’ve tried that before, but it doesn’t seem to help. I react to his tantrums by pinning him down, strapping him down and moving on. Usually he stops crying before we even get out of the driveway. Even though the tantrums are short I’d still like to have less of them, if possible. I’d love to hear your feedback.
Sorry this response is so late. A couple of thoughts…
1. Your boy definitely understands your words even though he doesn’t talk yet. He needs clear, brief explanations and acknowledgments of his feelings. He needs to know a little beforehand when you will go to the car and get in the car seat and not have time to play. “Today we’re riding — not playing“ is not explicit enough. Better to say something like: “I know you like to play in the car, but today we will go to the car and go right to your seat. After your nap, we will have time to play in the car.” Be sure to make eye contact.
2. It’s okay to do both playing and not playing, as long as you clearly let him know.
3. Crying when restricted is completely normal and expected at this age. Most infants and toddlers like feeling free to move. The more calm and assured you are (it will probably help make you more so when you know you’ve told him beforehand) the easier it will be for him to accept doing what he doesn’t want to do.
This holds true every time your wishes clash, which may be more often as you are entering the toddler years. Be clear, direct and confident, even in the face of his complaints and cries. Once he has expressed his differing opinion (which is healthy, healthy, healthy for him to do), your son will be able to move on. It sounds like you are already experiencing that.
Remember that your boy is unable to say in words, “I don’t want to be confined! I want to move.” So, all he can do to express himself is cry about it (and he may be releasing other pent-up feelings as well). It does not mean that he is traumatized!
4. Sometimes it helps to give him a simple choice like, “Would you like to climb into the car seat yourself or have me pick you up?” He feels more autonomous and can “save face.” Soon he’ll be able to latch the seat himself and you can let him chose that, too. Wait. If he still resists after you’ve given him a moment to begin doing those things himself, you may end up saying, “You don’t seem able to go in yourself, so I’ll have to help you.”
5. Problems happen when we try to avoid cries or are afraid to be decisive leaders. If we waffle, that makes the child feel uneasy, unsettled, and usually makes the eventual tantrum last longer, leads to more resistance about the car seat and other things. When we are tentative, we leave our child in an uncomfortable state of limbo.
It sounds to me like you are handling everything well, but definitely communicate with him more. He needs to know what’s going on. And don’t forget to empathize and acknowledge when he is upset, “I know you didn’t want to get into the car seat, and I’m sorry I had to make you do it. I know that’s upsetting!”
Hope this helps…
Thank you so much for your feedback! I follow you on Facebook and enjoy reading every single one of your posts. It has really helped to make me a more relaxed, confident parent. My son’s ability to play independently is pretty amazing. Many people have commented on it. Thank you very much for you advice on how to react to his tantrums.
We’ve pretty much moved past the power struggles over the car seat, but as you can well imagine, there are still plenty of other issues to disagree about. You once wrote something about being a “calm, confident CEO”, and it has really stuck with me. When I need to set a limit I really don’t get worked up or emotional. I’m always amazed by how quickly he moves on. And I guess I move on pretty quickly, too!
I think the most important thing for me to remember is to communicate, communicate, communicate. Thank you for the healthy reminder.
Thanks for listening,
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Yes, that’s it, exactly.
I offer a complete guide to respectful guidance in
(Photo by Ray Dehler on Flickr)