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My baby cries desperately in the car (15 months)

A mom asks me what to do with her son who cries in the car.

Carlotta Cerri

In my online course "Raising kids long term" (only in Italian and soon Spanish), I have a chapter in which I post (anonymously) some questions parents ask along with my answers, because I believe they can help everyone. I've decided to do the same here every now and then. Hope you like it. Today's topic is something parents ask me all the time.

Today I'm replying to a mom who left me a comment on one of my articles: Positive discipline Montessori style (you can find it in the recommended posts below).

The mom's question

I have a 15 and a half month old baby and I can't complain about him. About a week ago, though, he started having half an hour "crying fits" if I don't let him do something, like driving in sitting on hi daddy's lap… which obviously we can't allow.

In addition to not stopping crying, I try to hug him and explain the reason why he can't stay in the front seat, but he tenses up and pushes me away… and he cries, cries, cries! I can't calm him down, even though I try with a hug and kind words.

How can I try to calm him down in those moments? It looks like he needs to let off steam, but he's never done this: in the last week it's been happening every day.

Carlotta's answer

Your baby is starting to enter a phase where he realizes that he is a person on his own, separate from you, with his own will. And he wants to practice that will!

I would always try to give him two options, so that he has "his own way": in the car it might be unrelated to going in the front seat, it could be offering him a choice of two toys, two songs, before the crisis begins… This helps satisfy his need to decide.

Have you tried to suggest that he goes in the front seat with daddy for a few minutes before you start driving? And maybe "play driving" for a moment? 🚗 "Do you want to play driving for 5 minutes with dad, and then go into your car seat?". Maybe put a timer that might distract him. Maybe make a cardboard steering wheel for him: after he drives in the front seat with daddy, he can use his own steering wheel to continue "driving with daddy", but safely in his seat.

Having said all this, please know that crying in the car at this age are very common: babies have a strong need to move (they are in the full sensitive period of movement!) and their willpower is getting stronger and stronger: this combination obviously doesn't work with staying "stuck" in the car seat.

So if none of everything I've written above works, don't panic. It's a phase. I would advise you to remain as calm as possible, let him cry (it's sad, but the car seat is an inevitable rule) and when you arrive, I'd try to take his hands and breathe with him, synchronize your breathing, hug him without speaking (if he lets you).

Remember, crying is the only way he has to vent his frustration: if he could, he would give you a lucid speech about why his body and brain just don't allow him to be "trapped" in the car seat right now, but as he can't do that, his only option is to "cry, cry, cry".

This phase shall pass, I promise! Hang in there! 🙂

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