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Car Seat Crying
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By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Gentle Baby Care
Some babies fall asleep almost before you’re
out of the driveway, but others won’t spend five happy minutes
in their car seats. Usually, this is because your baby is used to
more freedom of movement and more physical attention than you can
provide when she’s belted into her seat.
Hearing your baby cry while you are trying to drive is challenging.
Even though it’s difficult to deal with, remember that you
and your baby’s safety are most important. Parents sometimes
take a crying baby out of the car seat, which is extremely dangerous
and makes it even more difficult for the baby to get used to riding
in the car seat. Some parents make poor driving decisions when their
babies are crying, which puts everyone in the car at risk. Either
pull over and calm your baby down, or focus on your driving. Don’t
try to do both.
The good news is that a few new ideas and a little time and maturity
will help your baby become a happy traveler. (I know, because three
of my babies were car-seat-haters!)
The trip to car seat happiness
Any one (or more) of the following strategies may help solve your
dilemma. If the first one you try fails, choose another one, then
another; eventually, you’ll hit upon the right solution for
Make sure that your baby is healthy.
If car seat crying is something new, and your baby has been particularly
fussy at home, too, your baby may have an ear infection or other
illness. A visit to the doctor is in order.
Bring the car seat in the house and let your baby sit and play in
Once it becomes more familiar in the house, she may be happier to
sit there in the car.
Keep a special box of soft, safe car toys that you’ll use
only in the car. If these are interesting enough, they may hold
her attention. (Avoid hard toys because they could cause injury
in a quick stop.)
Tape or hang toys for viewing.
You can do this on the back of the seat that your baby is facing
or string an array of lightweight toys from the ceiling using heavy
tape and yarn. Place them just at arm’s reach so that your
baby can bat at them from her seat. (Don’t use hard toys that
could hurt your baby if they come loose in a quick stop.)
Make a car mobile.
Link a long row of plastic baby chains from one side of the backseat
to the other. Clip soft, lightweight new toys onto the chain for
each trip. Make sure they are secure and keep on eye on these so
that they don’t become loose while you are driving.
Hang a made-for-baby poster on the back of the seat that faces your
These are usually black, white, red and bold primary colors; some
even have pockets so you can change the pictures. (Remember to do
this, since changing the scenery is very helpful.)
Experiment with different types of music in the car.
Some babies enjoy lullabies or music tapes made especially for young
children; others surprise you by calming down as soon as you play
one of your favorites. Some babies enjoy hearing Mom or Dad sing,
more than anything else! (For some reason, a rousing chorus of “Rudolf
the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has always been a good choice for
us, even out of season!)
Try “white noise” in the car.
You can purchase CDs of soothing nature sounds or you can make a
recording of your vacuum cleaner!
Practice with short, pleasant trips when your baby is in a good
It helps if someone can sit near her and keep her entertained. A
few good experiences may help set a new pattern.
Try a pacifier or teething toy.
When your baby has something to suck or chew on he may be happier.
Just make sure it doesn’t present a choking hazard, and keep
to small, soft oys.
Hang a mirror.
That way your baby can see you (and you can see your baby) while
you are driving. Baby stores offer specialty mirrors made especially
for this purpose. When in her seat, she may think that you’re
not there, and just seeing your face will help her feel better.
Put up a sunshade in the window.
This can be helpful if you suspect that sunshine in your baby’s
face may be a problem. Use the window-stick-on types, and avoid
any with hard pieces that could become dislodged in a quick stop.
Try to consolidate trips.
Trip-chaining is effective, especially if you avoid being in the
car for long periods of time, and you don’t have many ins-and-outs.
Make sure your baby hasn’t outgrown her car seat.
If her legs are confined, or her belts are too tight, she my find
her seat to be uncomfortable.
Try opening a window.
Fresh air and a nice breeze can be soothing.
If all else fails . . . take the bus!