Turning a toddler’s carseat because she’s hurting siblings

Celeste writes:

“I’m thinking about turning my toddler’s carseat from rear-facing to front-facing before she’s grown out of the rear-facing position because she’s kicking and scratching my two older kids. I have three kids sitting in the back seat, an older one on either side of a toddler, age 20 months. The toddler hates the car. The older ones are kind and patient with their little sister, fetching her toys and singing and talking to her in the car. The 20-month-old kicks and screams and pulls and scratches at anything within reach, including her siblings. She’s getting bigger and her reach is getting wider and strength is increasing. She’s hurting the older ones. I’d like to turn her seat front-facing, but she could actually stay rear-facing, the safest position, for at least another 6 months. I specifically got a seat that would face rear for her for a long period. I feel horrible risking her safety for the comfort of the older two, but she really is hurting them. What should I do?”

Duct tape. Duct tape your toddler’s arms and legs down when she’s in the car seat. (Joking.)

Seriously, though, you’re legally allowed to turn her forward-facing, so it’s really just a matter of your feelings of risking her safety if you turn her. The big issue is the kicking and scratching and hurting your older children. But there’s no guarantee that she’ll stop doing that if you turn her to face forward anyway. 

And it seems like you really don’t want to turn her because of the safety issues. If you weren’t concerned about it, you’d just have flipped her and not given a second thought to it. So it’s clear that this is a concern for you.

To honor that and to get to the real point (and because flipping her might not even fix anything), I’d suggest exploring other ways to stop her from hurting her siblings. 20-month-olds have little impulse control and aren’t easily reasoned with, so it’s going to be more about creating a barrier to keep her from reaching her siblings. Keeping her strapped in as tightly as possible so she can’t leverage herself out of the seat will help. You could also put a blanket over the entire carseat once she’s strapped in and tuck the ends tightly so she’s almost swaddled and can’t move.

If you can’t figure out how to create a physical barrier for the next few months until she grows out of this, you may have to try turning her around. Don’t be disappointed if that doesn’t work, though, and she just scratches and kicks from that angle.

Has anyone else had a problem like this and found a good way to keep your toddler’s arms and legs in their own space?

10 thoughts on “Turning a toddler’s carseat because she’s hurting siblings”

  1. I haven’t read the primary literature on forward versus backwards for 1 to 2 year olds. How much of an increase in safety is it? The 5 point seat belt system seems to be the biggest increase in safety. That being said, I did turn my toddler around before 2 years. Before the new guidelines had come out, I had turned my older child around at 1 year.

    Turning both of my children around made them much happier about traveling in the car in general. Sitting backwards, not being able to see what’s going on, just didn’t make them happy. And I don’t think they’re that comfortable.

    I don’t have recommendations on the screaming and scratching though. If you do turn her around and she can’t physically hurt her siblings, you could take a Duct Tape Parenting approach and just ignore the screaming. Not that I’m very good at doing that myself.

  2. I would email the Car Seat Lady and see if she has any insight into the safety value of having the baby rear facing versus the safety value of having her in the middle. And then if she said the middle versus a side is not a huge deal I’d try moving the baby to a side. Maybe change alone will help. If nothing else she can only get at one of the bigger ones that way and you can rotate them. It’s imperfect, but it’s something to try before flipping the seat around and then you still have turning the seat as a fall back if nothing improves.

  3. I had this problem and I had 3 kids across the back of a Subaru Outback. Seriously tempted to buy a minivan a few times. Turning the kid around (which I did at about 2.5) didn’t even help. At one point, probably around 20mos I used these things http://www.amazon.com/Sunshine-Kids-Stoppers-Window-Shade/dp/B000KN0M7S/ref=sr110?ie=UTF8&qid=1400294886&sr=8-10&keywords=pop+open+sun+shade+kids shoved between the car seats and held in place with bungee cords. It worked for a little bit until they started breaking down from all the abuse. It’s an awful phase and I’m so sorry. My sweet gorgeous 5yo has scars on his face from when my 3yo was 2ish and would scratch his face "like a kitty." I’m still incredibly upset about that.

  4. I’d turn that seat around and see if it helps. I also had intended to keep mine rear facing until two years but we turned him around at about 20 months for a long holiday car ride. It improved things for us quite a bit and we never looked back. Maybe it won’t work and you can rear face again. But if you do turn it around and it works, don’t feel guilty that you are sacrificing your child’s safety.

    If it helps, then your entire family is safer with you being a less distracted driver. And your older kids deserve at least a shot at a car ride that doesn’t involved being clawed.

  5. One thing that helps me think about these safety issues is understanding that the risks/benefits accrue much more significantly across large populations than they do in individual cases, if that makes sense. So, for example, if you consider hundreds of thousands of kids rear facing vs. forward facing, having ALL of them rear facing is going to save a couple of kids’ lives. Which is a great thing, and a very good reason, as a matter of policy, to have all babies and toddlers in rear facing seats as long as possible. But for each individual kid, the risks/benefits are really pretty infinitesimal. Also, I would think that having the stress and distraction of your specific kid beating up on her siblings probably increases your individual risk of an accident far more than a forward facing seat increases the individual risk of your kid being harmed. So I would face her forward and see if it helps.

  6. Rear facing is 5 times safer than forward facing. Middle is safest, but either side refacing is still way more safe than forward facing. As someone who has been in an accident with my baby (now five) and seen how much better he faired than the other forward facing passengers, I highly recommend anyone who can, to be rear facing. How ever driving with three fighting kids is a hazard too. My suggestions will be as if you are keeping up with rear facing but I support what ever you have to do… New books they’ve never seen before, stickers, goldfish gummies and the like snacks, mirror to watch ones self, toys that are special to the car, those magic crayons markers that only work on the special paper, puppets, story "tapes", toys like those obnoxious leap frog learning toys, she may learn to read along the way! Scotch tape, post it pad, tablet, pile of pipe cleaners, bubbles….keep a grab bag and rotate a new one everyday!

  7. This is us too! Toddler (17 months) is RF in the middle with an older sibling on either side. She kicks them relentlessly, my 4.5 yr old ends up crying… it’s a mess. Toddler is in a new seat designed to be RF basically forever, and I had every intention of keeping her that way at least until 24 months — but I hadn’t anticipated this. We’re only in the car like this for 10 minutes/day (drive home) but it’s an awful 10 minutes/day at the end of the day when everyone’s tired and on the edge as it is. I think I’ll try a snack cup and sippy to see if that distracts her (hopefully doesn’t ruin supper… then we’ll need snacks for the other two… hmmm). Otherwise… I don’t know. She’s only getting bigger and stronger…

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