Dear Amanda…

I need your advice on how to get my toddler to cooperate when I need to buckle him into the car seat. It’s always been a bit of a struggle, but lately my newly three-year-old is making it so hard to get going–he finds every reason to not buckle himself, not let me buckle him, says he needs all these crazy things before we can leave, and on and on. I seriously dread getting in the car these days! How can I make this less difficult for him (and me)?


Hi Casey,

First of all, this is a super common struggle for many toddlers. I love that you asked how you can make this less difficult for him. I think that’s where you should start–looking at the situation from his perspective because it’s very likely that this isn’t actually only about the car seat. Are you warning him ahead of time when it’s getting close to when you need to leave, or are you interrupting his play to rush him out of the door? Are most of your trips to what he’d consider fun destinations (the park, grandma’s house, etc.) or is he being taken to do things he isn’t very interested in (errands, picking up siblings, etc.)? Have there been any big changes in your family lately (moving, new baby, etc.)? Does the car seat fit properly, or is it uncomfortable? Is he more reluctant to cooperate when leaving something fun like a playground? …These are just a few ideas about why a young child might resist getting in the car, but there are many more possibilities. Try to see things from his point of view and see if there are ways to make the transition easier–preparation, consideration, and empathy go a long way to soothing big feelings around transitions.

Once you’ve addressed the possible root causes of this behavior, think about your approach in the moment. It sounds like from your note there is a bit of a power struggle happening around who is going to buckle him in, as well as his “crazy” requests. He may sense your apprehension around this whole process, leading to him feeling uneasy and testing you more. A good rule of thumb is to remain unbothered by his antics and set clear boundaries. Boundaries explain how you’re going to respond to his behavior. For example, ask him “Would you like to buckle yourself or would you like me to do it?” and if he says he wants to, say, “Okay, we have about four minutes until we need to leave. Go ahead and buckle up! But if it’s still not done by the time we need to leave, I will buckle it.” Hopefully, he’s willing to do it and you can move on. If not, though, I would follow through with “Hmm, I see you’re still not buckled and it’s time to go. I’ll help you this time, and you can try again when we have more time. What song should I play while we drive?” 

Be confident, but kind. Trying to help him find a “Yes”--an element he can choose and control–can meet their need for autonomy in that moment, even if his original “yes” isn’t happening. Empathize with any frustration he expresses and try to help him problem-solve (“You’re upset! I understand. You were really wanting to buckle yourself this time. You’ll get another chance to try the buckle again on the way home.”). 


Leave a Comment