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Q: What should I do when my child unbuckles his seatbelt?

 

Question:  My child keeps unbuckling his carseat, what should I do?

Answer:  This is a great opportunity to fabricate a teachable moment.  Make sure to do these things ahead of time:

  1. Talk to him about the reasons for staying buckled in
  2. Completely clean the car out ahead of time–no toys, etc
  3. Set your own emotions to the side here.  They will sabotage your plan.  

Then:

  1. Set up an event where he’s likely (and then does) unbuckle. 
  2. When he does, pull over as soon as you safely can.  Don’t react.
  3. Let him know that you were going to go to ‘x’ (must be somewhere he would want to go) but that you can’t drive him places when he isn’t being safe. 
  4. Sit (have a book or magazine for yourself).  Pretend to read the book if you have to, your goal is to not interact (ie, reinforce) his behaviors.  Be boring.  The car should be boring.  You want him to get bored. 
  5. Wait until he gets back in the carseat, buckles as much as he can.  (this may take a while.  Be prepared.)

6.  Now go home–not to the desired destination. 

7.  Talk to him about safety and that if you can’t trust him to stay in his carseat, you can’t drive him to fun places/events.

8.  Plan to repeat this a few times. 

Be extra sure to be totally on your game.  Don’t feed/reward the behavior by providing ANY excitement.  Don’t even talk (after your initial request) until he’s back in the seat.  He needs to learn that cars are a method of transport, and that the supercool stuff happens once you get where you’re going.  Chances are he needs to unlearn that there is a lot of (parent-provided) excitement (conflict, power struggles, yelling, strong emotions, oh my!) to be had when he removes his seatbelt.

After you’ve done this at least once, you can ‘front-load’ for success by talking to him ahead of car rides, reminding him of how hard it can be for him to choose to keep his body in the carseat, but also reminding him that when he does not choose to keep his body buckled in, he really feels upset and disappointed when he doesn’t get to go to the fun places he likes going to.  You can also ask him–again: ahead of time–if there is any way you can help him make good choices during the ride, offering a suggestion if necessary (play his favorite song, sing something together, bring a favorite book in the car…)

This isn’t a foolproof plan (what, in parenting, ever is?) but it’s a great jumping-off place.  Good luck!