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5 Tips for a Happy Toddler in a Carseat

I saw a rather cute ad from Mothercare recently that goes like this:


  • I reserve the right to go as stiff as a board as you attempt to strap me in.
  • I reserve the right to become uncontrollably excited by dogs or cats.
  • I reserve the right to cry non-stop then fall asleep the second we arrive.
  • I reserve the right to hear my favourite music at full volume – on a loop.
  • And I grant you the right to buy me a stylish, comfy, safe car seat and a perfect new pushchair from Mothercare.

I guess it just goes to show that if I thought I was one of the rare mothers who had to endure a toddler who refuses to sit in his pram or carseat, I can think again.  The hubby should also take note of this for the next time he compares Gavin against a child who sits or sleeps in his pram, because for every child that obediently sits, there is another who is just like Gavin.

That said, I figured it was time to dust off the old carseat and start making trips out with Gavin again.  I had stopped taking Gavin out on my own for a while because he was making too much of a fuss in his carseat and would often flat out refuse to sit, wailing and screaming whenever I tried to put him in.  Since our maid suffers from motion-sickness, I couldn’t really enlist her assistance either.

Although I am quite content to stay at home, my social butterfly son needs the freedom to move and new sights to explore.  And we all know that a toddler full of pent up energy who doesn’t get the opportunity to release it is like a box of dynamite waiting to go off at any moment.  So for the sake of sanity (both mine and Gavin’s) I felt it was time to figure out some new methods of getting Gavin to sit in his carseat long enough to get us to the shopping mall or wherever it is we want to go.

  1. Morning, fairly soon after waking up, is the best time to put Gavin into his carseat because he’s more patient and usually in a good mood since he isn’t tired.  So usually, I’ll pack him off into the car soon after we grab a quick bite to eat.
  2. Since music soothes the savage beast, making sure that his favourite music is playing before I try to get him into the car does wonders.  Alternatively, because he can understand words, I’ll repeatedly tell him, “We’re going kai-kai (translation: shopping).”  Gavin loves to go shopping so the word “kai-kai” has a rather soothing effect on him.
  3. Using distraction tactics, I’ll make sure he has something in his hand that he likes.  For instance, recently, he’s rather taken to Meiji Yan Yan biscuits and Chupachup lollypops, so if I give him one to hold, he’s usually quite happy for at least a good 15 to 20 minutes.  If he’s hungry, he’ll be quite happy munching on a Yan Yan biscuit.

Ever since he saw the Chupachup stands near the checkout counters, he keeps pointing at it.  Thinking he wanted one to eat, my MIL bought him one.  Being the dentist, I wasn’t particularly keen on giving him sweets since all they are empty calories and they are bad for Gavin’s teeth.  Not wanting to deprive Ah Mah from the opportunity to spoil her grandson, I held back.  To our surprise (and my delight), he took one lick and decided he didn’t like it.  Even though he didn’t seem to like the taste, he would still insist on having a Chupachup to hold.  Since it kept him content, I started using Chupachups as a distraction object.

Recently, he started putting the Chupachup in his mouth (with the wrapper on), so we opened one and gave it to him to try again.  Confident he would reject it again, I wasn’t at all worried.  Unfortunately, this time, he took to it – much to my displeasure.  Now I can’t give him a Chupachup without him handing it back to me so I can help him remove the wrapper.

Although most of our family members view offering sweets to Gavin as something of a treat, it makes me feel like such a bad Mum to allow him to eat such things.  I guess because I know they’re bad for him.  Unlike other treats like ice cream where I can console myself that he’s at least getting some calcium (albeit a fraction of what you would get from an equivalent portion of milk), there is absolutely nothing to be gained out of him eating a Chupachup.

  1. I always make sure I bring lots of toys in the car for the journey so that there is something to offer him when he gets bored and starts to fuss.  Toys that make noise and have buttons he can press, or books, are usually the better toys to bring because they have a longer distraction value.  Although I have noticed that now that he’s older, he appears to tolerate the car ride out quite well.  At times he even seems content to just sit in his chair and look at the changing scenery.
  2. The problem, I find, is not so much the car ride to the shopping mall.  It is usually the car ride home that Gavin can’t tolerate.  This is because all the factors are unfavourable – he’s usually not ready to go home and he’s tired so the last thing he wants to do is get into his carseat.  To manage this, I’ll stay at the shopping mall until he falls asleep in my arms.  Then I’ll wait 10 to 20 minutes to make sure he’s in deep sleep so I can put him into his carseat without him waking up.  That usually takes care of the journey home – no fuss, no crying, no stress.

The only downside to this method of handling the car ride home is that it doesn’t do anything to help him accept sitting in his carseat.  In dentistry, this would be the equivalent to putting a child under GA (general anaesthetic) to treat them, rather than working to modify his behaviour so he can handle receiving his dental treatment while conscious.

At any rate, usually these tactics help to ensure a compliant child in the carseat and it means we get to go out rather than being cooped up indoors.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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