02 03 Notes from the School Psychologist: Car Seat Wars. 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Car Seat Wars.


They (the royal “they”) say to write about what you know. Lately, I have been learning a lot about behavior modification. I will write about that. No, I haven’t learned about behavior mod through a great professional development or fabulous new book for school psychologists. I have been engaging in battles with a tiny tyrant I made myself.

Look how happy this toddler is in her car seat. This is not Toddler B.

The car seat is basically a toddler’s Battle of Little Bighorn, alá Custer’s Last Stand. It has become the battleground for all age-appropriate fights for independence with Toddler B. And even though I have extensive training in behavior modification, it turns out it is really hard to apply to your own kid. I have tried the following strategies, in order from my highest level of patience to my lowest form of parenting. I think teachers and school psychs may be able to relate, if they have ever engaged in a battle of wills with a child before…

1) Preparing for the Transition and Providing Anticipatory Guidance

It goes a little something like this:

Mama B: Toddler B? Want to go to the zoo? Won’t that be FUN? Wouldn’t you like that?
Toddler B: Zoo! Choo choo! giraffe! Carousel! Up and down!
MB: Yes, let’s go! We will have to get in the car seat to go.
TB: Car seat!
MB: Whhheeeeeeeee! Car seat! How fun! Mama’s gonna click you in! Click, click, click! Then off to the zoo. Ready?
**puts TB in car seat. TB arches back and screams NOOOOOOOO!**
 MB: Honey, we have to go in the car seat to go to the zoo. Don’t you want to go to the zoo?
MB: Really? You don’t want to go see the giraffes?
TB: NO!!!!!!
MB: Hm.

2) Trying to Make it A Game: The Countdown
MB: Let’s play a game! Mama’s gonna count to five and then let’s see if you can have your buns in your seat by five! Ready? 1…2….
TB: *smiling*
MB: 3…4….
MB: 5! Wheeeee! Buns down!
TB: All done car!

3) Bribing. Incentives.
MB: Well, mama has a treat in her bag if you want to sit down.
TB: Treat!
MB: If you sit down mama will give you the treat.

4) Providing a Clear Expectation and Rationale
MB: Sit down please.
TB: No sit.
MB: I need you to sit down so we can go to the zoo. It’s for safety. We can’t drive to the zoo if you’re not in your seat because if we get in an accident, you’ll get an owie.
MB: If you don’t sit down, we can’t go to the zoo.

5) Providing a Consequence
MB: Okay, fine we are not going to the zoo then.
MB: You need to sit down then.
TB: No.
**takes TB out of car**
TB: Waaaaaaaaaaa! ZOO!
MB: Okay, well if you want to go, you have to get in your car seat. That’s the rule. 
TB: Car seat.
MB: Okay, here we go!
**Tiny Tyrant screams and arches back so as to make it impossible to get her buckled in**

6) Getting Angry
MB: OMG. How are you so strong? You are only 19 lbs! I need to go to the gym…You need to GET. IN. YOUR. SEAT.
TB: Nooooooooo!
MB: Mama is getting angry. Look at mama’s face. I need you to get in your seat!

7) Hand Over Hand Assistance
MB: You had your chance, now mama is going to put you in.
**Wrestles tiny freakishly strong toddler into seat**
TB: Waaaaaaaaa!

Now you can imagine how much worse it is when we aren’t going some place as fun as the zoo. Most days, thankfully, we only get to step 2 (fun game) or 3 (incentives). Some days, we get to 6 (Mama losing it) and 7 (hand over hand assistance)—doesn’t that make it sound like loving guidance? It’s more like trying to wrangle a tiny screaming alligator. But I usually only get to step 7 when someone is waiting for my parking spot and probably judging my parenting. Sigh.

The experience of the Car Seat Wars does make me appreciate the nuance and challenges of trying to change a behavior.  As a school psychologist, when I give behavior modification advice to parents and teachers, I always ask what have they tried already and empathize with the struggle to keep it together while you are teaching a new skill to a kiddo. I acknowledge there are times when the best strategies don’t work. But most times, with consistency, they end up working. The frequency, intensity and duration of the Car Seat Wars are all reducing with my mental behavior support plan for Toddler B. And you can bet that whenever she sits those buns down, we throw a positive reinforcement party. It’s working.

In related news, I am starting a new self-defense program called Toddler-Kwon-Do in which you will learn the strategies of back arching, stiffening your arms and legs, and/or melting into a puddle on the floor. Very effective passive resistance strategies. 

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