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Heather Corley

Can Your Toddler Escape the Car Seat?

By May 4, 2011

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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?

May 4, 2011 at 11:13 am
(1) maura says:

This happened just the other day. We only recently bought our first car (we live in the city) so my kids are just getting used to sitting in car seats regularly (and I’m just getting used to all the new ways I need to be vigilant about car safety YIKES!).

My 4 year old very proudly told me when I had stopped the car that she was unbuckled — as in both the top clip and the safety button between her legs had been opened…while we were driving.

I yelled. not my finest mommy moment, but the vision I had of a sudden stop and her flying into the second row of seats was more than I could bear. We then had a very calm talk — her, me and the other 2 kids (although the 4 month old probably won’t remember LOL).

I think they get it, now, but it’s something that I have added to the list of things-you-need-to-repeat-to-kids-constantly (no opening your belt without mommy).

May 10, 2011 at 11:19 pm
(2) John Murdock says:

“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. ”

The ‘pull over’ and car ‘could not move’ things are a great idea.

I think that’s a nice and clever way to get the kid’s attention and made him/her realize the consequence of such behavior.

Genius Mom

August 26, 2011 at 2:28 am
(3) Linda says:

There is a new product out on the market call Monkey Tyz. It was designed to keep little ones from unbuckling their car seats. We got one a with in a few months he quit trying to unbuckle. It was a real life saver! Thank you Monkey Tyz!
You can buy them at http://www.goores.com

August 29, 2011 at 9:33 am
(4) babyproducts says:

Teaching a child not to unbuckle is still the best option. Adding products to keep a child buckled could have unintended, and dangerous, consequences. If there’s a special behavioral need that requires additional help to keep a child in their harness, you may want to look at a travel vest. Some of them close in the back where curious hands can’t reach.

October 27, 2011 at 12:35 am
(5) Jan says:

We have an 18 month old boy and he was getting out of his car seat 3 -4 four times a day. He opened the car door and scaredd me to death. I ordered a product called monkey tyz and they shipped me this little strap that fit right on my car seat. I have a saftey first seat and it works great! http://www.monkeytyz.com is the website.

July 3, 2012 at 5:44 am
(6) adlanasa says:

We’ve tried just about everything w/ our 2yo from stern talks, pulling over, etc. We even tried monkey tyz (which he figured how to undo also). So my last resort is a new carseat (currently have the Graco nautilus). Hopefully one he can’t undo. We’ll see bc this is the child that likes to push the limits. I’m hoping as he gets older this dangerous habit will cease bc right now he’s too young to understand how dangerous it is. Until then ill continue to give rewards (candy) for staying buckled.

August 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm
(7) beatrice says:

My on was the WORST for this. He was a little under 2, so talking to him about it did NOT help. He would literally spend the ENTIRE car ride trying to get free. He would finally slide his shoulders and hands out then stand up!
We went through 10 car seats, and every idea out there. If the kid wants to get out, THEY WILL. We bought the most expensive seats and contraptions on the market. We even duck taped the straps together at one point, but he found a way! It was actually amazing, and he did the same w baby gates, all baby safety features, I have NEVER seen another child so dedicated to escape ever. He was amazing really. FINALLY one day I went with my friend and she had an OLD FASHIONED seat in her car, the kind w the bar that comes down over head, similar to a roller coaster. I asked to put him in it, and sure enough, he could not get himself out from the bar. He could still slide from the shoulder straps, but not the bar. FINALLY, turns out they still sold them at KMART at the time, and really cheap too! I bought 2! I had him in that for years, and finally he outgrew it! I do not believe that there is a 5 point harness alone that could have solved that issue. I should have video taped it looking back. I dont think they sell those seats anymore, but I still have mine, and a new daugher. I dont think it will be an issue with her, but u never know :)

August 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm
(8) beatrice says:

Hi the solution for my son was the old fashioned kind of car seat, the kind with the bar that goes over him like on a roller coaster. I agree, there is NOTHING w straps that some kids cannot get out of. try that if u can find one, put a WANTED list on craigslist and maybe someone will have one. Good luck to u. That is the ONLY thing that finally worked w my son.

February 7, 2014 at 3:45 pm
(9) Denise Mac Giollari says:

Hi, There is a great product that stops kids opening the seatbelt securing the car seat. worked for us..www.beltlock.ie

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