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Child Car Seats

Keeping your child content in a car seat

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​When used correctly, car seats save lives and reduce injuries.  Children sometimes get restless in their car seat but there are ways to keep your child safe and happy as you travel.​

Use a car seat from the start

Children should ride in car seats for every ride.Those who do are more likely to stay in their seats when they're toddlers and preschoolers. Start the “buckle-up” habit early so children learn that car seats are an important part of any ride in a vehicle.

Be consistent

Buckle your child into the car seat correctly for every ride, no matter how short the trip.

Set an example

Buckle your seat belt every time you get into the vehicle. Parents are great role models. Children learn from what you do.

Bring fun things for your child to do in the car

Have soft toys, activities, books, or music in the vehicle to keep your child busy. Change the toys often to keep your child's interest. You may have a few toys that your child plays with only in the car. This can make a car ride something your child looks forward to. Store toys safely so they won't fly around and hit someone in case of a sudden stop or crash.

Make sure your child is comfortable

Dress your child so they'll be snug and warm in the car seat. Use as few layers as possible between your child's body and the shoulder straps. Check that the straps are snug each time. A blanket or cover can be placed on top of your child once they are properly secured in the car seat. In the winter, use thin, warm layers like fleece or a light snowsuit. If using bulky or puffy winter clothing, compress the material to make sure that the harness system is tight.

Try riding in the back seat yourself. Is it too hot or too cold? You may want to use a see-through window shade for when the sun shines in the back or side windows. Some children are happier when their shoes and socks are off.

Encourage your child to look out the window

Car seats and booster seats lift children up so they can see out the window. Children like it when they can see what's going on. For infants, tape bright images in the vehicle to catch their eye. For older children, make it a game by playing I Spy.

“When will we get there?”

Exact answers such as “after lunch”, “when it gets dark”, or “when this tape (song, story) is over”, mean more to a child than “soon”.

Be firm with your child

All children will try to get out of their car seat at one time or another. If this happens when you're driving, pull over to a safe spot and stop the vehicle. Tell your child that they need to stay in the car seat, then buckle them back in. The important thing is to stay calm and be kind, but stay firm. Your child will learn that the vehicle won't move unless everyone is buckled up.

When toddlers are learning to be more independent, they may try to get out of their car seat, just because they can. They're not trying to be bad. They're just trying out their new power to make things happen. Use the same strategy as above. You may have to repeat it several times.

Hint for parents

Keep a small book in the glove box, or a favourite book or activity on your smartphone. This will give you something to do while you're waiting in your safe spot off the road for your child to lose interest in struggling. It will help you stay calm and keep you from getting into a power struggle with your child.

Travel hints for longer trips

Children can get bored or tired after spending a long time in the vehicle. If you're planning a longer road trip with young children:

  • Plan to stop for breaks along the way. You'll have to make bathroom stops and diaper changes anyway. If the weather allows, get the kids out and enjoy some fresh air, snacks, and activities. Pack some toys, balls, or games to play with at your rest stop.
  • Music, audiobooks, travel-sized games, movies, and electronics can be great for keeping kids of all ages happy while on the road.
  • Think up travel games like I Spy or identifying and counting games (types of vehicles, licence plates, road signs, or flags).
  • Keep snacks like crackers, cereal, cheese, and fruit (fresh or dried) in the vehicle in easy-to-use containers. For drinks, bring some water and unsweetened fruit or vegetable juices.
  • Remember to secure everything while driving so things won't fly around and hit people in case of a sudden stop or crash.

Read your car seat or booster seat instruction book and your vehicle owner's manual to make sure you're using the seat properly. Make every ride a safe ride for everyone.

For more information on how to properly install and secure your child in a car seat or booster seat, take the rear-facing, forward-facing, or booster seat YES Test.

If you still have questions, call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: May 15, 2023

Author: Provincial Injury Prevention, Alberta Health Services