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How to Keep Your Kid in a Car Seat

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A study in the journal Pediatrics takes special-needs parents to task for not properly restraining their at-risk little ones in car seats (this after researchers stalked parents in the parking lot to see if they were really doing their duty). And that's all well and good -- car seat safety is undeniably important and life-saving.

But let those sneaky researchers sit in our cars and keep our little escape artists from unlocking that latch at 55 miles an hour if they feel so strongly about it.

Let them wrestle a heavy, low-muscle-tone child into that car seat. Let them reason with a hyperactive or oppositional tot who thinks car seat evasion is the funnest game ever, and being restrained by straps is beyond unacceptable.

And it's not like the problem goes away when they move up to booster seats or regular seatbelts, either.

If you've got a restraint resister and no pediatric so-called expert handy to enforce the rules, give these eight tips a try. Do you have another strategy that's worked well? Share it on the Readers Respond page.

1. Get a Car Seat That Fits

Cramming a large child in a smaller car seat may cause discomfort and fuel the desperate need to escape. Because children with special needs may need to be car-seated past the normal age and size, you may need to look for a roomier conveyance. About.com Baby Products Guide Heather Corley has some good leads on jumbo-size seats.

2. Adjust the Seat to Your Child's Needs

Children with physical impairments may need some customizing to get a car seat that sits them safely and securely. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued some guidelines on seating kids with tracheostomies, muscle tone abnormalities, spica casts and behavioral issues, as well as children who must be restrained while lying down.

3. Make Your Child the Seatbelt Police

Drive home the fact that seatbelts are important by always wearing one yourself, and enforcing the buckle-down rule for the whole family. Put your car-seat escapist in charge of monitoring everyone's buckle status. The authority to boss others into restraints may make your child more conscientious about keeping his own on.

4. Turn Off When You Can't Pull Off

Pulling off to the side of the road when harnesses come unbuckled is fine in theory, but if you're going someplace essential and your child doesn't care so much whether you get there or not, this technique may be weak. Try turning off things your child enjoys instead -- no seatbelt, no stereo, no DVD player, no chit-chat, no fun.

5. Provide Distractions

Make sure the belt latch isn't the most interesting thing your child has to play with in the car. Hand-intensive toys and games, like the activity kits recommended by About.com Travel With Kids Guide Teresa Plowright, may keep your child away from the buckle "toy" that's holding her into the seat.

6. Give a Reward

If you use a behavior chart or point system with your child, give points for staying safely seated. Or assign points in the short term to be redeemed immediately on arrival for a treat or privilege -- ice cream at the mall, maybe, or an item of choice at the supermarket. Be sure to keep the reward small and sacrifice-able -- something that highly motivates your child but makes no difference to you one way or the other is ideal.

7. Furnish a Seatmate (Fake)

Do you have spare backseat space and an old outgrown or outworn car seat? Try putting the extra seat beside your child's, buckling in a favorite doll or stuffed animal, and putting your child in charge of making sure that imaginary playmate does not escape from the seat. Whether your child is occupied with patroling and role-modeling, or with facilitating her friend's belt antics, she may keep her hands off her own buckle.

8. Furnish a Seatmate (Adult)

It's tradition for Mom and Dad to sit in the front seats and the kiddos to take up the back, but if policing your child's car seat safety is too hard to do with your back to the culprit, placing one parent in the back to police, re-latch and distract may be a more practical seating plan. If you've not got a spare adult, try giving an older sibling rewards or behavior-chart points for peacefully keeping the small sibling seated.
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