For a car seat to work properly in the instance of an accident, your child must be, well, in the thing. The shoulder straps must be in the correct position and snug on their body.
That’s why it’s important to take action when you have a toddler who keeps trying to escape, sliding down the chest clip and slithering their arms out of the straps, even after being instructed not to.
The problem isn’t an uncommon one — stuck in some weird restraining system for extended period of time, it’s natural for children to become curious and fidgety and sometimes defiant. “Look, mama, I pushed it down!” my daughter once announced proudly while I was driving, before I knew she was capable of such a thing. At a traffic light I had to reach back, slide it back up, and tell her to never do that again. (She hasn’t, luckily.)
The Car Seat Lady, a group that advocates for safe car travel with children, came up with a way to help parents with car seat “Houdinis”, as they call them — kids who slide their arms out of the straps. Try the button-down shirt trick. Here’s how it works:
- Put a button-down shirt on your child. One with several small buttons will work best. (You can either dress your kid in it, or keep one in your car for this purpose.)
- With the shirt unbuttoned, properly secure the straps and clips.
- Button the shirt over the straps.
As The Car Seat Lady notes, it’s a good, temporary fix because most kids can’t undo small buttons until age four or five, and it doesn’t interfere with the performance of the car seat clip, unlike some other desperate measures parents have tried (such as using duct tape or string).
Know that the button-down shirt trick should be used in tandem with teaching your kids how to sit safely in their car seat. If they need something to play with on a long drive, try a toy instead.
And just to bust a few myths while we're here, we spoke with Alisa Baer, a paediatrician, co-founder of The Car Seat Lady, and certified instructor for the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s car seat course, who told us it’s actually a widely held myth that positioning the chest clip too low will cause abdominal organ injuries in the event of a crash, or that positioning it too high will cause asphyxiation.
(According to Baer, strangulations from chest clips have only been known to occur when parents unbuckle the crotch buckle and use just the chest clip, and a young child slides down in the seat and gets caught.)
The clip, she explained, is a device to position the straps, which must be snug and in the correct place. (See a full explanation for rear-facing children here.) Baer’s Houdini trick was created to prevent the dangerous situation of children manoeuvring the clip down and slipping their arms out of the straps.