What do I do When my Kid Won't Wear a Seatbelt?

equalizing low demand parenting foundations practical tip Sep 17, 2022
What do I do When my Kid Won't Wear a Seatbelt?



Questions: What do you do when your child has behaviors that impact safety? What about behaviors like refusing to sit in a carseat or refusing to wear a seatbelt? What about putting hands in poop and smearing it? How can I use the low demand approach when it’s this bad??




Behaviors are communication. 


[To learn more about this concept, check out these teaching videos from Dr. Ross Greene, and explore the books by Mona Delahooke.] 


I’ll say it again: Behaviors are communication. 


Old behaviorist approaches say that by paying attention to problematic behaviors and by listening to them, they will increase. That the best approach to problematic behaviors is ignoring, to smother them out by removing your attention. But if behaviors are communication, then they are also part of a trusting relationship. Your child is trusting that you will listen, that you will understand, and that you will respond. To ignore them breaks down trust in your bond. It also ignores an opportunity to move toward your child with a collaborative approach and thus to teach them crucial life skills for what to do when they are stuck in behaviors that don’t serve them.


We all get stuck doing things that don’t serve us. I get stuck auto-scrolling on Instagram when it would better serve me to have a conversation with my husband or head to bed. I get stuck withdrawing mentally when I’m overwhelmed, when I would be much better served by getting up and leaving the overwhelming environment or asking for the restaurant to simply turn the loud music down. 


Behaviors are communicating something to you about a need your child has, about a struggle they're having, something that they want to communicate to you. 


Our core question with the behavior is not: ”How do we stop it?" 


It’s: "What is this telling me?" 


What is my child expressing? 

What are they trying to tell me?

What need do they have that is coming through in this behavior?


Any time our kid isn't meeting our expectation, it’s important to first ask: Do they know what my expectation is? Depending on the child’s age and stage and the nature of the expectation, they may not know what positive expectation you have for them in that moment. In the case of wearing a seatbelt, they probably already know. If they already know, then you can set aside the responsibility to “remind then” (i.e. repeat the expectation over and over).  It's not a cognitive question of how to teach them to keep their seatbelt on, or of obedience (“I need you to respect me enough to put the seatbelt on, or fear me enough to do what i tell you to do”). 


Instead we want to listen to the child-- by listening deeply to what they're communicating-- and then support their need in another way, so that the behavior goes away on its own. 


Let’s start with curiosity:


  1. Why now?

  • When did this begin?

  • Did something happen?

  • Has something shifted in our home that syncs up with the emergence of this behavior?

  • Because that might be communicating something to you about what they're struggling with or what changed or why now. So that's a starting point: Why now?


2. When does it happen? 

  • Is there anything specific to when it happens?

  • Does it happen every single time, or only certain times?

  • Does it happen under a certain wider context (lack of sleep, challenging event, hungry)?

  • Does it happen at certain times of day? What else is happening at that time? What are you doing at that time?


3. What am I expecting?

  • What is it that I'm expecting of my child at this specific time that's leading to this behavior?

  • What positively do I want them to be doing?


4. What is my child communicating to me about this expectation?

  • Is the child’s behavior pointing toward a demand you are making that is a struggle? Is it too much for them for a particular reason?

  • What need is the child communicating in their struggle with your expectation?


If possible, you can also move into a verbal conversation about the behavior with your child. But verbal communication is totally not necessary. Even if your child does have verbal skills, it may not be helpful to begin to talk to them about this unless your energy is really really in check, and you're not going to add any anxiety or intensity to the situation by talking to them about it. 


5. Why does my positive expectation matter to me in this specific instance? 

  • Why does it matter that they do what I am expecting them to do?

  • What would be lost for me if they cannot meet the expectation?

  • What need is driving me here?

  • Why is it hard to drop this expectation in this particular time?

For example, "It matters that my child won’t get in the car and wear her seatbelt because it means I’m late or not able to go to my weekly yoga class.” Or if it's an issue with smearing poop, “It matters because it always happens on the couch, and I can’t clean the upholstery.” 


Your “deep why”-- why this truly matters to you and why this must be addressed-- is really crucial because it will give some really important information about how you want to move forward. 


Then you will move into the next phase: taking care of your own needs without asking your child to do something that's too difficult for them. 


Which is a topic that deserves its own post. 

Why is everything so hard?


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