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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?
TB: NO!
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….
TB: NO!
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.
TB:
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.
TB:
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.
TB: ZOO!
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!
TB: NO!
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. 

11 thoughts on “Car Seat Wars.

  1. This is amazing. But it makes me scared for the future–I have a four month old that already weighs 19 lbs :O I guess I should be off to the gym now, eh?

  2. OMG. This was so funny. I have missed your posts. I am so glad that my toddlers are now 15 and 12. They have a whole different set of issues that need "guidance."

  3. @Michelle: Yes! Get to the gym right away! You will need your stamina. :)

    @Christie: LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. Thanks for sharing!

    @Patricia: I have always contended that toddlers and teens are very similar. 😉

  4. I wonder why she doesn't like the car seat? Is she restless? Is the belt uncomfortable? If so, they have those stuffed animal things that velcro to the straps to pad them. Is she bored? Can she see out the window? Is there a special toy you can give her to play with only when she's in the car?

    I'd be interested to know what ends up working. I know this is a common issue. Hang in there! :)

  5. Thanks for the fun post! I'd try to offer toddler advice, but having had 3 children, what I've learned is that the strategy that works on kid 1 is almost guaranteed to not work on kid 2 and kid 3. I hope you figure out what works for toddler B!

  6. Just curious why you didn't try to ask your toddler why she doesn't like the car seat?

    Is it possible she's scared of the seat or that she feels uncomfortable in it?

    What if you decorated the car seat with her favorite color or cartoon character?

    Could you add something "fun" to the seat, like a cool helmet or a seat belt that has fun buttons to push?

    Just a thought :)

    -Lauren (BA in Psychology)

  7. OMG I love all the psychologist response comments that are framed as questions, what have you already tried, consultation-like inquiries:) We are all so brainwashed -er I mean well-trained that we respond to all situations as school psycs and consultants. Don't worry – my first was only toddler hell on wheels from 10 months to 3 1/2! I just have to affirm that dealing with a toddler sucks and is exhausting, even with all the wonder and love that you experience.

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