How To: Get Toddler into the Car Seat when they don’t want to

I have gone through many different scenarios with my Toddler – as when he doesn’t want to leave a place (usually the playground) he puts up a fight and doesn’t want to leave at all.

This past year, there have been countless of times where we have been out and about somewhere and we’ve needed to come home – but my Toddler doesn’t want to leave just yet.

If I am rushing and just tell Toddler that we are leaving and put him straight into the pram or car seat I usually get one – or more of the following:

  1. Planking (where they arch their back, making it hard for you to put them in their seat, and worried that you might hurt them)
  2. Waving hands in frustration, resulting in myself being hit in the face when I pick him up
  3. Screaming
  4. Shouting out “NO! HELP!” (this can lead to curious stares from strangers and a little embarrassment)
  5. Running away
  6. Refusing to leave, point blank – or ignoring you

All of the above are really hard for me, as I have to be very careful with my back, due recovering from surgery on it from a few years ago. I am still learning different ways to prevent this happening, but these are the following things that have worked for me:


  • I have tickled him until he laughed (but I gauge this, as if he is too upset/wound up already it will only frustrate him more and ensure more screaming)
  • Distraction is a good thing – if you have a toy that they can play with all the better! I have recently bought a toy steering wheel from the local opshop and every time I have been having trouble getting him into this seat or pram, I give it to him so that he can “drive the car” from from his car seat. You could easily make your own out of cardboard together too! Extra points to you if you get him to turn the wheel left or right when you are pushing the pram and follow the direction he is turning it. (I wouldn’t recommend doing this with the car though…)
  • Wait them out if you have the time – calmly explain to them what you would like them to do, and if needed, put them in time out.
  • If it is the pram you are trying to put them in, see if they are happy to hold your hand or help you push the pram instead
  • Ask them if they can show you how to put the seat belt on (I have found this helps them feel as if they are the ones in control)
  • If all else fails or you are short on time, I have loosened the straps of the car seat so that I can fling it over his arms and still buckle it up (without force) and then tighten the straps until it is at the safe position for you to drive.

Accidental and Frustration Hitting/Kicking:

  • I have said to Toddler “Don’t hit me, I don’t hit you” in a calm voice (you do still need to be careful when you say this, as most people hear the word “hit” and hackles are raised)
  • Blow in their face – lovely smiles can be the result
  • I have caught the offending hand/foot in my hand and done the following:
    • Tickled it
    • Done “This Little Piggy” or “Round and Round the garden went the Teddy Bear” etc
    • Held onto the offending foot and looked at it in wonder and said something like “Oh wow! It’s a foot! How did that get there? My goodness me! It’s not meant to be up in the air like this dangling around” (so basically I’ve made of joke of it, distracted him and make him laugh in the process)
    • Step or lean back (while still holding onto them) and said “That’s not how you high five!” and ask them to show you how a high five is done
  • If all else fails,  pick them up and throw them over your shoulder in a fireman hold


  • Sit there quietly and calmly talk to them
  • If you are inside, remind them that you use an inside voice
  • If you are outside and decide not to calmly talk to them (lets face it, sometimes it’s just one of those days) put on your “Mum Voice”
  • If you really want to scream back at them – within reason as you’ll look like a crazy person (and you are meant to be the adult here) e.g They scream “NO!” you scream back “Yes!” – make sure you smile back at them as you play this game. The funniest thing I’ve had from my Toddler from this exchange is them pausing to look at me and then with a quick smile from them they then said “Ok Mum, come on – let’s go” they then took my hand and walked ME back to the car!
  • Whisper! Seriously they will come close to you to hear what you have to say – or the change in volume will distract them from whatever it is they were screaming about
  • Say nothing, keep a blank face and raise your eyebrows (or one if you can manage it)

Shouting out “No! Help!”

  • Ask them what they want help with
  • If you are having a lot of weird stares from other people, say loud enough for everyone to hear but don’t make it sound like you are panicking “I’m you’re Mum. Not a stranger.” – a side note here, if you are one of the people staring and honestly think that I am kidnapping my child or something – I will not bite your head off, in fact I will thank you! Trust your instincts on this, and if in doubt and the child really is asking for help, as embarrassing as it will be if they are only playing up, it is better to be safe then sorry
  • If someone does come up to you and ask you if you are your Toddlers mother – as frustrating and embarrassing it may be; try NOT to snap at that person. As I have stated in the above point, I am most likely to thank you then yell at you. I have had a lovely lady come up to me and ask me a question along these lines “Is everything ok here?” to which I replied “Yes, it’s fine I’m just trying to get my Son to finish on the play ground, but he’s having so much fun he doesn’t want to leave” she then offered me some help, and chatted to Toddler – which was enough to distract him and allow me to talk calmly to him. After that, I thanked her and Toddler happily hopped into their pram and allowed me to buckle him in

Running Away:

This is still a huge issue for me, and I am constantly looking out for new ideas that may work. I am not a fan of using a harness or strap on the hand for a few reasons:

  1. They can wriggle of of them
  2. You can get reliant on it, and they may not learn as quickly as they would if you didn’t use it
  3. It may actually frustrate them even more and if you have a stubborn child, it might not even work

In saying this, I have friends that have used harnesses for their kids that were runners and it worked very well for them. As with all parenting choices, an informed decision is the best and if you think your child will learn better by using a harness – go for it!

This is a list of the things that have helped me with my Toddler who is a “runner”:

  • Be quick on your feet
  • Everywhere you go, have a quick look for at the exits and danger points and make a quick plan in your head how you will stop your child from running there if they do. (if there is a body of water – have it already in your mind that you are going to get wet at some point today – I’m not saying that they will jump in, but it’s best to see the safest place for you to jump in before you have to, without injuring yourself as that wouldn’t help the situation)
  • Make sure that you have no obstacles between you and your child so that you can get to them in a hurry if they do a runner
  • Try to have someone else with you when you go out to a public place where you might let your child run free e.g. The Botanical Gardens or a park. At the very least, if they can’t run after Toddler for you, they can guard your bag or pram if you have to do a “Drop and Run”
  • Again, try to go to the park etc with other parents who have children the same age – or even older then yours. You can work together as a team. Also, sometimes the older kids are happy to help out as they understand the rules for staying in your line of site better. I have a good friend who has kids that are really good listeners and are happy to play with my Toddler while us Mum’s have a chat – if Toddler runs off and one of the kids are close, they will either steer them back in the right direction, hold onto them until I can get there or chase after them in front of me so they can tell me which way they went as it helps be decide the quickest way to get to the Toddler
  • Try to have a pram or a seat on hand – give your child fair warning if they look like they are going to run. I usually say to my Toddler “Stay here please, if you don’t listen – you will sit in the pram” (up to you how many chances you give them. Sometimes I give them three, others only one if they run off in a dangerous situation)
  • Use different words to stop them. I am still aiming for them to stop when I say “STOP!” (this has happened only once for me which I will explain in the next point) – I was in a fluster one day, and called out “Wait!” and blow me down if my Toddler didn’t stop in his tracks and actually wait for me.
  • Stand in front of them and hold your hand up in their eye sight and say firmly “Stop”
  • If they are old enough talk with them about it before you go anywhere. I specifically remember when I was about 3 or 4 year old, my Dad telling me “You don’t run away from us here, there are cars that could hit you. There is only one of you and it would make us very sad if we lost you” I understood that right away and I didn’t need to be asked to stop after that, just reminded of the statement with the words “There is only one of you”

Refusing to Leave/Ignoring you:

  • I have had my Toddler literally sit down in the middle of the road that we were crossing because he didn’t want to go (or if he was really tired from all the walking) In situations like this:
    •  If I feel it about to happen I quickly stop and pick him up and carry him the rest of the way.
    • If it is in a safe place, I stop and get down to his level. I then ask him why he is sitting one the ground. If he says his legs are sore, I offer to carry him or find a place for us to sit down together until he’s ready to walk again. If he says he doesn’t want to move (and he is not hurt) I explain to him “You don’t sit down in the middle of the footpath” and point out the people that have to walk around us. If he still refuses to move, I ask him again why he’s not moving and work from there.
  • Use a treat as a bribe if you want to (I try not to, but if I do it’s usually if they have been good the rest of the day and if they aren’t doing anything else besides saying they don’t want to leave) Sometimes you just need a little incentive. 🙂
  • If they are outright ignoring you, make sure that they can actually hear you. If they can’t, move to where they can, or:
    • Walk up to them and ask them to look at you
    • Tell them that you are leaving
    • Give them a choice “We leave now, or you go in time out”
    • Take them by the hand and walk them out
    • Acknowledge their feelings “I know you are having heaps of fun here, and it is a shame we have to leave now, but we can come back another time”

Other Tips and Methods you could try:

  • Give them fair warning. When I am ready to leave I either pull him to the side and tell him one of two things:
  1. Tell them they have 10 minutes left – set a timer on your phone, and make it clear that when it goes off, you are leaving. (extra points to you if you have a ring tone that helps e.g. “So long, farewell” from The Sound of Music)
  2. Give them 3-5 more times down the slide and count it down with them. Be fully prepared that they will go down the slide once, then play on each piece of equipment between each slide. e.g.  “Toddler, you have 3 more goes down the slide then we are going home. One! Wow! You’ve gone down once, now you have 2 more goes!”
  • Praise, praise and praise again! I get better results from my Toddler if I am positive and praise him and tell him that I am proud of him for listening.
  • Be patient. Remember that they are only little and still learning themselves
  • Talk with them before you go out and tell them what you expect from them, and then when it is almost time to leave remind them again. e.g. “We are going shopping, and then we will go to the play ground for a bit after. When I tell you to get ready to go home, please help me out and be ready to leave when we need to” (this works better with older kids, but I’ve started it with my Toddler and sometimes it works)

I have others that I have tried, and will add them when I think of them or when I have discovered something new! I would love to hear any other ideas for this subject if you have them 🙂


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