Kate Mullen, a child passenger safety educator at Jack and lola, a North Vancouver baby gear store, sees many parents desperate for a solution to help their baby get accustomed to their regulation rear-facing car seat.
She recommends checking that the car seat straps are properly adjusted, so your baby isn't pinched or sliding into a slouch. Ensure that the seat is installed at a 45-degree angle - any more upright can aggravate acid reflux. After that, she says, it's a matter of distraction, at least until your baby graduates to an inherently more fun front-facing seat. (This is legislated by most Canadian provinces and territories, often around 22 pounds.)
Snacks for older babies can help (but avoid foods that are choking hazards), as can toys that the baby only gets to play with in the car. Make sure they're soft, like cloth books, since anything hard is dangerous in an accident. (Expert tip: Baby mirrors that allow parents to watch children from the front seat are a no-no according to some experts including Mullen. The hard plastic could be dangerous if it comes loose in a crash.)
Before you spend too much money on gadgets - and I would have spent the family fortune to quiet my kid - try good old-fashioned singing, suggests Chrissy Pearson, a music therapist in Toronto. Don't worry if you sound like an American Idol reject. "It's about the baby's recognition of your voice," says Pearson. Having one or two songs in your repertoire is great, but she says six or seven is better. Ask yourself not only "What song will my baby connect with right now?" but "What will I connect with?"
This reminds me of something one of my new mom friends once said: Singing may or may not soothe a fussy baby, but it sure does wonders for a panicking parent. Since you can't take your baby out of the car seat, no matter how wrenching her cries, staying serene may be priority number one. I'm not sure I ever managed serenity, but I did survive, and so did my son. These days he's a happy camper in his front-facing seat - no snacks, no toys and no singing necessary, though I still subject him to the odd power ballad. I know I only have a few more years until he starts whining, "Are we there yet?"
A version of this article appeared in our December 2012 issue with the headline "Back-seat whiner" p. 68.
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