"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?