Child Hates Riding in the Carseat

Archived Q&A and Reviews


2 month old screams the entire time she is in the car

Feb 2004

My 2 month old daughter HATES being put in her car seat...she seems miserable in it, and screams the entire time she is in the car. I have tried pulling over and comforting her, feeding her, waiting until she is sound asleep and the instant I set her back down into the car seat she begins to cry (before she even opens her eyes). Of course, about 10% of the time, she is fine and seems perfectly content (just to really confuse me). I used to think she was just unhappy about not being held, however I never have any trouble putting her in her bouncy seat - she is happy there for over an hour at a time. Her aversion to the car seat has made me afraid to take her anywhere - since when she wails like that I feel terrible, like I am torturing my poor child. Has anyone had similar circumstances, and if so, what did you do about it?? Diane

Boy, can I relate! My baby, now 14 months old, has NEVER liked the carseat. He can tolerate long rides in a stroller just fine, but not the car.

It also still breaks my heart when he cries back there (he's still facing backwards). At 2 months old, I did exactly what you're doing: stop, feed her, comfort her, but most of all, I would try to time drives when you know she'll either doze off, or, have someone ride with you whenever possible. At that age, I have to say, it was very stressful and I carefully planned my driving times around baby.

Later, when my son's naps were more predictible, I realized that he was most unhappy when he was overtired and couldn't fall asleep alone there. So, I then timed my drives after or well before naptime.

I hope she gets better--if not, you have a long road ahead of you--sorry for the pun. I know what helped me was to make the decision: either I'm going to pull over and try to deal with the baby, or, I'm going to turn up the music and just get to my destination! Stressing about it doesn't help and only makes driving more dangerous (easy to say, right?)

It's also hard to explain to people how upset they can get back there--everyone assumes all babies just fall right to sleep. I've just learned to say that I give in to my baby's demands when it comes to the car seat--I would never let him scream tied up in the house, so I'm also not going to do it while driving.

COngratulations on your baby. I hope things get easier for you-- everything else will, if not the carseat crying, so don't worry! Been there, too

My son also hated the car and car seat and would scream whenever we drove anywhere until I found a magic cure - I bought a CD called ''For Crying Out Loud'' at Rockridge Kids (also available from Amazon). It's got 8 tracks of noises that infants supposedly love (i.e. static, background noise in a restaurant, the vacuum cleaner). Anyway, I play it as loud as he's crying and PRESTO, he stops!!!!!!!!! I have been using it for about 2 months now and it always works like magic (of course, I want to cry now because most of the tracks are not fun for adult ears). He's finally outgrown completely hating the car (he's 5 months now)so I can acutally put on the radio sometimes, but if the trip is longer than 15 minutes, I pop in the trusty CD and it either puts him to sleep or into a sort of trance-like state.

I also tried a gizmo with lights and sounds that attached to the car seat and sat on his lap and I controlled it with a remote from the front (about $20 from Babies R Us), but that never really worked well although I heard from others it was effective. Good luck! Abby

4-month-old screams in carseat

Sept 2003

My 4 month old hates his carseat. I have to put him in it when he is already asleep or he screams the whole time he is in it. I can't bear to let him is not a little fussing, it is all out screaming. I have all kinds of bells and whistles back there for him: mirror, remote controlled musical toy, rattles, soft toys, etc. I've tried three different car seats. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Sometimes it takes us 2 hours to go from oakland to berkeley because I'm stopping to comfort him. HELP!

I had the same problem and just drove as little as possible but my brother seems to have discovered a great solution with his child. They bought a Britex Marathoner. Very pricey but apparently it goes from infant through toddler. This really solved the baby hating car problem. Having suffered through it for years you have my sympathy. By the way, it finally got easier for us when my child was old enough to listen to music tapes and when he was even older, story tapes. Good luck! Been there

My son hated the carseat too. We didn't go anywhere for the first year that required more than an hour's drive, because he screamed and screamed. Some kids just seem to be like that! When he was one year old and we could turn him around facing forward, it got much better. You might just have to grit your teeth and hope for the best and wait it out. It will get better. Never Slept in the Car

5 month old cries on car trips

My 5 month old daughter has been crying in her car seat on trips out in the car for about two months now. When it first started, she did ihas looked into this issue? It consistently and is now doing it intermittently. If she is not tired and does not fall asleep right away, she'll cry very hard and sometimes histerically, almost as if she is in pain. This behavior is very confusing to me and my husband as we know that most babies love the car. We have ruled out pain from the car seat straps because as soon as we un-click her car seat from its base to get her out of the car, she's fine, even with the straps still firmly tightened. She is also fine when we strap her into her car seat before we get in the car and go. We thought maybe she didn't like being left alone in the back seat, but even with me in the back seat with her while my husband drives, she still cries. She has done it in other cars as well, on short trips and long ones, in Northern Cal and Southern Cal, with her shade up or down, and at varying times of the day. We just can't think of anything else it could be and feel so sorry for the distress that driving in the car causes her. We are wondering if anyone has had a similar experience, what you did if anything to solve the problem, and we're open to any suggestions or ideas. Thank you. ke

Oh boy does this sound familiar! Ours is 6 1/2 months now and it has gotten a lot better, but from 2 to 4 months car trips were brutal. We never figured it out either (straps, boredom, lonely, carsick?) and also found that she'd often stop as soon as the car stops. We did meet a bunch of other parents whose kids hated being in the car, though, so know that you are not alone.

The best tip we got was to bring a bottle in the car and have someone feed it to her. For trips longer than 3 hours I also brought a pump so we could give her several bottles. This absolutely saved our sanity when we drove to LA and back during Labor Day weekend.

Other ideas (not sure how effective they were, but maybe worth a shot): classical music, toy bar clipped on to the sides of the seat, try to plan car trips as your baby is getting sleepy so he/she will conk out, a mirror positioned on the back seat so you can see each other (or at least your little one can some motion when you wave).

The good news is that we just switched ours from the infant to a convertible car seat and she seems MUCH happier in general. I think the convertible seats are higher up than the infant ones and babies can see more which seems to help ours.

good luck! Kathleen

My daughter hated the car as an infant. I had a number of times where I cancelled plans because I couldn't endure the screaming on the trip. There were times, of course, where we had to get somewhere. I vividly remember being stuck in traffic on the way to the pediatrician's office, baby screaming in the back, mommy cursing our car-centered life.

I never got used to the screaming, but I found a few things that helped. (1) I put something up for her to look at in the back seat. Those baby things they sell with the black and white contrasts and faces never really interested her. She was a huge dog fan, so we have a doggy sticker in our back windshield; (2) Once we figured out her favorite music, we could play that in an endless loop, which calmed her somewhat; (3) the Britax Round- About seemed to prop her up at a less frustrating angle, leading her to cry less often. I remember wishing I had put her in it sooner.

None of these things was fool-proof, more like band-aids that would work on occasion. She pretty much didn't like the car the whole first year of her life. Once she was forward-facing, things got more interesting for her and the fussing disappeared.

Good luck. This too shall pass... -- Ilana

My baby did not like the car at all and cried every time we put her in. Our solution was music. We sang to her (we did not have a working tape deck at the time). We had a musical toy in the car with old favorites like ''old MacDonald'' and we sang at the top of our lungs. It was the only thing that worked. She's 21 months and is fine in the car. She still likes music and we now listen to tapes. Elizabeth

we too had a baby who hated the car and cried from the start. Although we did not intend to start offering a pacifier, we found that giving her one helped avoid these crying episodes. By 7 months she could handle being in the car without the pacifier for short periods of time, but would cry if a trip lasted more than 45 minutes or so. Now at 17 months we still keep a pacifier in the car in case she seems to be getting uncomfortable (pulling on car seat straps as if trying to get out, etc). She has rarely ever slept in the car unless it's naptime. I've heard that some babies are motion sensitive and cry in the car since the motion makes them uncomfortable (perhaps even carsick??). In addition to disliking the car, our baby hated being rocked in the glider after about 2 weeks of age and never tolerated being in a baby swing. Binky baby's mom

With regard to your 5 month old crying in the car, (Advice Wanted, December 1), I noticed that you said you know that ''most babies love the car.'' I've learned that comparing your child to others in this manner is not helpful. Do ''most'' babies really love the car? I don't know ''most'' babies, so I can't really say. I do know that our friends' baby screamed in the carseat from Day One and did it for months. Our own baby always slept in the carseat when she was a newborn. Then, when she was three months old, we were coming back from Marin when the baby started crying hysterically. We pulled over because she was crying so hard. From that point until about she was about 10 mos. old., our daughter would occasionally have carseat meltdowns if she was in the car for more than an hour. We went on one long four hour car ride during this time period. We learned to time our car trips to her naps to minimize her carseat time. We also bought new toys for the really long car trip and introduced them to her during the ride. I believe that the carseat crying is a phase, like so many other things seem to be. Our girl has always been active. She was an early crawler and early walker. It makes sense to me that a non-sedentary child would not want to be strapped into a carseat, going backwards, for more than an hour. And once we put her in the forward facing seat (at one year and 20 lbs), she enjoyed being able to see us, her parents, and where she was going, thus making the carseat more enjoyable. So to sum up, I think it's probably only a phase. And your baby is NOT the only baby who cries in the carseat :) Good Luck

Our daughter did this until she was about 6 months old. She's 8 months now, and pretty much perfectly happy in the car. I, too, was totally disturbed and sorry about it: I found it hard to drive safely with her hysterical in the back seat, because it drove my mom-radar so nuts.

There are only a couple of suggestions I can make:
1) Nurse her in the front seat before you go anywhere. This will relax her and let her know that the car is a good place, and will help her be more happy when you start.
2) If you can avoid it, don't do any more than one trip at a time (don't run a bunch of errands to different places that require getting in and out of the car).
3) Find a good chew toy. I mean it! We found that my older daughter's plastic broccoli was very popular for chewing, so that became the car toy, along with one of those silly, brightly-colored stuffed things with all the arms. The chew toy gives them something to work on when you are taking off, and distracts them from the terror of the car.
4) Go just as she's ready for nap (with the front-seat nurse). She will be upset, then fall asleep. Enough of these, and she will start thinking of it as a place to sleep.
5) My husband suggests that you should ask yourself if you are driving unsafely when she is like this. He felt that I was a seriously unsafe driver at those times, and felt better when he or someone else drove.

I don't know why my daughter had such a hard time with the car, it was as if she was utterly terrified. I did talk to someone else who had a similar problem, and they said that with very spacially-oriented babies, the action of the fast motion can be too much, and the other cars passing can be terrifying. Some babies are just sensitive, and don't like the noise or the strangeness. Horrible as it may sound, they need to be acclimatized, and that takes a little time.

However, I can attest that it will pass. Like I said, my daughter has no problem at all with the car now, as long as I don't put her in and out of it more than six times in a day. But who wants to be in the car that much?! Heather

My now 6yo had the same problem. I don't know what his issue with the carseat was - I suspect he simply expected me to hold him (since I did the rest of the time). Since we've got such a great deal with public transportation here and can get just about anywhere on a boat, bus, train or taxi, I simply used BART and busses to get around. At the time I only had one other child (they were 22mo apart) so it was doable (though I still take all 4 on public transportation when the 13mo is in a ''I hate carseats mode''). That particular baby started outgrowing his carseat hate at about 8 months and looking back it really wasn't that much of an inconvenience. I'd just use a bus or BART until your baby can tolerate the carseat again. Kathy

No one has mentioned this, so I'll throw in my own two cents. Sometimes babies and kids cry because they get car sick. My daughter wears ''Sea-Bands'', anti-nausea wristbands that hit a pressure point below the wrist, and they work like a charm. Most drugstores carry them; if you can't find them on the shelves, ask the pharmacist where they're located. They're great for pregnancy nausea, too! Annie

I used to think my daughter was the only baby in this world who hated to be in the car. She would scream from the moment she touched her car seat until I took her out, which made any trip - short or long- extremely nerve-wrecking (and potentially dangerous). What finally quieted her down and ultimately made her ''like'' being in the car came upon chance. My husband was driving and I was sitting in the back with her, trying without success, to calm her down. I opened up a plastic bag to grab a toy, and the moment she heard this sound, she stopped crying. I gave her the bag to play with, under my constant supervision, and she was a happy camper all the way home. Now, when I am driving alone, I always have a small bag of potato chips (or any toy that makes a crinkly sound, though I found the bags to have the longest lasting pleasure) on hand for her to play with. The minute I belt her in, I hand her a bag and another toy, and she's happy smacking that around for a good 30-45 minutes. Rotating your supply of toys is also a good idea to keep up the novelty. Now, at 7.5 months, she's learned to look out the window to entertain herself or crane her head back to check that I'm in the driver's seat, and no more meltdowns. Good luck! Jackie

My son was hysterical in the car until he was about10 months old. I don't mean just crying...I mean out-of-his-mind screaming hysteria. I was so desperate to help him but nothing worked. We stayed home for almost 3 months just to avoid the car. It got a little better when he was old enough to hold a bottle and feed himself o's, and then it stopped suddenly before his first birthday.

There may not be a cure other than time. You have my sympathy 'cause it's so so stressful for mom and dad. Our best coping strategy was to be very religious about naptime so that our son would fall asleep at a predictable time. We then tried to schedule car trips for naptime. It was several weeks (months?) of effort, but he was eventually able to sleep in the car.

Funny, but now he loves the car. Elisa

8-month-old hates the carseat!

March 2002

My 8 month old son screams from the moment he is put in the car seat until the moment he is taken out. He is still in a rear facing seat. I am at a loss and find myself avoiding getting in the car when at all possible...but I need a life too...any advice? frazzled mama

Hmmm... My son was like this. It was bad. What worked for us was this: we changed his car seat. He was previously in a Century Smart Fit, and I think it was just not soft enough and too low -- he couldn't see out the window. We switched him to a Britax Roundabout, which was softer and higher up and it made a HUGE difference. I wouldn't say he completely stopped crying, but he cried less often and for shorter periods. The Britax is more expensive, but for me, it was worth it. Oh, and he stopped crying completely when he was around 12 months. Hang in there. Laurel

I feel your pain! My daughter became happier in the rear-facing car seat when we did two things: (1) ditched the infant-only car seat for a round-a-bout. It didn't lie as flat so she could see better. (2) found a really cool dog sticker for our back window (she was and is a huge dog fan) so that she could see the ''car doggy.'' It was not a 100% cure -- but take some comfort that he might outgrow this, especially once he's forward facing. Good luck! -- Ilana

I hate bondage too! Some car seats, especially the rear facing, are uncomfortably restrictive, thry another model, trade with a friend for a day, or find a second hand shop that will let you try a different one out. Or graduate him prematurely to a front facing version. Safety is very important, but so is mobility! Daniel

My (now 5) second child hated the carseat until he was about 8mo. We simply used public transportation - we're lucky here in the Bay Area to be surrounded with a wealth of public transit. Is this sudden? Has he always hated the carseat? Is there something in the seat that is hurting/bothering him? Have you tried music? Engaging him? Getting a mirror so he can see you? Can you sit in the back with him (while someone else is driving) and does he act the same? Kathy

boy can i empathize! my daughter LOATHED the carseat... esp. when she faced backwards... music always helped... either my singing or my playing tapes. also i hung one of those pull toys which plays music where she could reach it... that helped, too. she would pull it and it would play its little song. if it makes you feel any better, it got easier when she faced front and now that she's nearly 2, it's easier still. but it was really, really hard going for a while! i envied parents whose kids loved driving in the car! cynthia

I, too, was a frazzled mama... my daughter HAAAAATED the carseat. I remember many a time when she was screaming so intensely that I, too, had tears streaming down my face by the time we got home. Sadly, though, I can't offer a magical solution... just a few thoughts and a lot of empathy.

First of all, it got better. She is now 13 months and we have not had a real ''car seat incident'' in several months. I think it improved at around 10 months? Maybe 8 or 9 months?? Not sure. It was after we graduated her to a Britax Roundabout, and although I do think she is more comfortable in the Britax, switching carseats certainly wasn't what made her stop screaming and crying in the car. Simply put, I think she just outgrew it. I think it was some weird phase.

My daughter was very, very attached to me. (She still is, but she now tolerates being away from me; I think this came [albeit gradually] with the fun of exploring the world after she learned to crawl and walk). I think the ''carseat hatred,'' as I called it, was the manifestation of something in her personality -- something hardwired, and therefore there was nothing I could do to prevent or avoid it, just things I could do to sometimes minimize the pain.

The main thing I did was to avoid the car as much as possible. Yes, it was difficult! I live in a pretty urban area, and so I could (and did, and still do) walk to do my grocery shopping, buying only as much as would fit in the stroller basket. I am staying home with her, so thankfully I did not have to put her in the car to drive to day care each day. But even with all this walking, it was difficult to avoid the car. I often felt that I was suffering as much as her, because either 1) I was giving up things I wanted to do (like going shopping for some clothes that actually fit, or going see a friend) because they involved using the car, or 2) I was suffering alongside her during those car rides, and if we were out in the car for something I wanted to do (not something I HAD to do), then I ALSO felt guilty for putting her through so much pain and suffering. It was a real no-win situation for me emotionally.

Another thing I did was to always nurse her before going anywhere in the car. The crying seemed to be more intense when she was hungry. Rather, I should say it was worse when we drove somewhere without me nursing her immediately before -- I think it wasn't really a hunger thing, but more of a reassurance thing. Also, if she was too tired when we set out, that was a prescription for disaster. The best situation was just nursed, maybe getting a little sleepy but definitely not overtired.

As I said, I think my daughter's carseat hatred was part of her personality. I think that for some reason, it was extremely difficult for her to be away from me. Even if I was riding in the back seat with her, she would cry. (I even managed to nurse her while my husband was driving, and although that helped I don't particularly recommend it). Anyway - my point is this - I think it was part of her, and she grew up a bit, got a little more confident in the world, a little more sure of herself and the fact that I was always there, she got gradually more and more at ease in the carseat. It sounds pretty basic, but it's honestly the only explanation that fits all the facts. And this is why I recommend things like avoiding the car -- if your son is like my daughter (which, granted, he may not be) then this problem is going to go away, and it will go away in its own time, so why put yourself through the pain and suffering of taking him along in the car until that time arrives? Have your groceries delivered if you can't walk to the store (webvan died but I heard commercials on the radio this week for and Send your friends an email and say, ''ok, I have this quirky kid but I'm going to try going with the flow for a month or two... can you help keep me sane while I'm semi-housebound by making a date to come visit me?'' Ask yourself how much you would pay to not have to listen to that screaming from the backseat once a week -- and then pay that to a babysitter while you go somewhere (a movie? a haircut?) in the car by yourself.

Now, as I said, your son might not be like my daughter. He could hate the carseat for an entirely different reason. For example, it could be medical. Who knows - maybe your son gets carsick easily. I did mention the problem to my daughter's pediatrician and he checked her back, hips, etc. to make sure there wasn't some physical reason that sitting in the seat would be painful for her.

Also, ask yourself: does he cry in the carseat only if it's in a moving car? Do some tests - put him in it in the house, and see if it's the CAR or the SEAT. You might try easing him into it... maybe putting him in the carseat after nursing him to sleep and, if he doesn't protest, gradually extend the amount of time he spends in the carseat like that before you try him in it in the car again. Keep in mind that (to complicate matters!) at this age he is smart enough to have negative assocations... it might actually be the moving car that bothers him (or the fear surrounding his separation from you in a moving car) but the sight of his carseat, or being in his carseat within the house, might set him off.

I know this has been a very long post, and I don't know if any of it will help you. I hope so. In his book on the fussy baby and high need child, William Sears included a page about babies who hate the carseat. He included a list of suggestions, many of which I found rather unrealistic (though I don't remember what they were now). You might want to check it out of the library. What I got most from it was the comfort that my child wasn't the ONLY one in the world who didn't fall asleep at the sound of the key in the ignition, as nearly everyone else's did. If nothing else, I hope you can get a little of that same I'm-not-the-only-one-out-there comfort from reading this long response from me! Best wishes, Sarah