According to a recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' meeting, half of the kids sitting in car seats know how to unbuckle themselves, and have done so, much to parents' surprise. Of the children who unbuckled themselves, more than 40 percent did so while the car was moving.
This study , conducted by the Yale School of Medicine, surveyed 378 parents on the car seat habits of their children. About 75 percent of the children who unbuckled were age 3 or younger, but there were a few older kids, up to age 6, who pulled the car seat Houdini act, too.
I've had only one unbuckling incident while the car was moving. My daughter was around 3 years old at the time. I pulled over immediately and sternly explained that the car could not move if she was not buckled, and that she was not safe that way. Luckily, that never happened again, though she did occasionally wiggle out of her harness while we were parked.
If your child unbuckles while the car is moving, pull over in a safe spot and start with a calm but very serious talk about why it's not safe to be roaming the back seat. Many young children can pick up on your tone and understand that unbuckling is a big problem. If that doesn't work, one popular option is to plan a fun trip to the zoo or park, tell the child about it, but make sure he or she knows you'll have to go home if seat belts don't stay buckled. Then, be true to your word. If your child unbuckles, turn around and go home, and be sure to reinforce why you're turning around. This is an immediate consequence that works well with toddlers.
Proper car seat use and a snug harness can also reduce the chance that your little one will unbuckle on the road. It's much easier to lean forward and play with the buckles at an angle that could release them if the harness is loose. If the chest clip is too low, it's also much easier for a child to get his or her shoulders out of the harness. Children in belt-positioning booster seats often learn to unbuckle the vehicle seatbelt quickly, too. Consider moving your child back to a high-weight-limit car seat with a harness if this is a problem in your car.
Has your child unbuckled the car seat harness while you were driving? What did you do to solve the problem?