We all know that your car seat is probably the most important piece of baby gear you own. The roadways are dangerous and children are more vulnerable than most in the event of a collision. However, in order to keep your child safe in the vehicle, they need to be properly fastened in a correctly installed car seat. Unfortunately, some kids hate the car seat and don’t like to stay buckled. 

For most kids, the crotch buckle is too hard to undo themselves, but the chest clip? A majority of toddlers and older children can unclip their chest buckle on their own. After they do it once, some kids develop an aggravating and dangerous habit of unbuckling their chest clips on every ride. This can be super stressful because though you want to keep your child protected, their lack of cooperation makes it difficult to get a safe ride.

So, today, we’re sharing some practical and safe tips to keep your children buckled all ride long. Whether they’re in the front-facing or rear-facing car seat stage, the strategies below should help you retrain your child to stay buckled. Here’s Safe in the Seat’s unbuckling advice: 

How To Keep Toddler From Unbuckling Chest Clip

Check the fit. 

Before you do anything else, check how the harness straps are fitting your kiddo. One reason your child may be unbuckling is because they’re uncomfortable. So, make sure the headrest and harness straps are in the right place for your child’s size. (If your child is rear-facing, the harness straps should be at or just below the shoulders. If your child is front-facing, the harness straps should be just above.) 

Next, make sure that the straps are tight but not too tight. You shouldn’t be able to “pinch” any slack on the harness straps, but two fingers should fit snugly between your child and the chest clip. If you can’t wiggle two fingers in there, it may be too tight. 

The Pinch Test

Talk about it.

From the day your child is born, you should be talking about the car seat. That might sound extreme, but it’s not! Whether they’re infant car seat age or seat belt age, vehicle safety should remain a priority in their lives. In order to cultivate that mindset, try to make car seat harnessing a normal part of your every day. You can do this by roleplaying, using a storyboard, and sharing your thoughts on buckling every time you do it.

To roleplay, I recommend practicing outside of the car with a doll. Have your child participate in strapping the doll into an infant car seat (or a pretend car seat with pipe cleaners for straps). Then, talk about how if their doll unbuckles the chest clip, they’ll be unsafe, and the mommy will have to stop the car. Be creative and let your child lead the activity as you guide them to understanding. 

Practice positive reinforcement.

Once your child is ready for positive reinforcement and reward systems (around 2), try incorporating clear expectations and incentives. Tell your child gently, “We all need to stay buckled in the car to ride safely.” Then, try one of these three reward systems:

  1. Set a timer and praise them using a song or phrase every time they hit a timed milestone. 
  2. Let your child rotate between car seat-safe toys for each trip, but clarify they can only play with it when they’re riding safely. 
  3. Use a visual behavior chart inside the car and give small rewards each time they stay buckled.

Give natural consequences.

Sometimes the best way to handle the situation is to take away the necessity of the destination and just practice the safe boundary. This way, you can better manage your stress levels since you don’t have to worry about being late. Plan a non-essential trip to one of your child’s favorite places. Let them know that if they unbuckle, you’ll turn around and head home—and stick to the consequence! 

Pro Tip: Try this later in the day, so if your child doesn’t get to go to their special destination, they have fewer hours left before bed to completely lose their mind.

Safely block the harness clip.

Another great way to keep your child from unbuckling is to block the chest clip safely. Dress your child in a button-up shirt and button it over the car seat harness. If your child is a real Houdini, you could also try zipping a thin jacket backwards on your kiddo. This takes some wrestling, but it might be worth it to keep your kiddo safe! 

Don’t go right for aftermarket products.

As you’ve probably read on our blog before, no aftermarket products are approved for use on a car seat. We do not recommend any products that block that chest clip, however, sometimes, we have to make non-ideal decisions if the alternative is an unsafe rider. Don’t even consider a clip guard unless you’ve tried every other solution on this list and you’ve talked to a Certified Car Seat Safety Technician. (You can meet with one of our technicians HERE.) 

And, remember, this is just a phase. By the time you’re ready to pull your hair out, they’ll suddenly get it and stop. So, try to push through, and if you do have to use an aftermarket product, get rid of it as soon as your child is over the unbuckling phase.

 Your child must stay buckled in their seat to ensure a safe ride. 

Keeping your kiddos buckled safely in their car seat is a non-negotiable. However, it’s really frustrating when your little rider is working against you by unbuckling their chest clip. Try these methods to combat the behavior, stay calm, and know we’re here to help and support. You can find us on Instagram and YouTube, and we’ve got more great car seat advice on our Safe in the Seat blog. No matter your car seat question, we’ve probably got the answer!

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