The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children remain rear-facing in the car up until the age of 2. Car seat manufacturers are making seats with higher and higher rear-facing height and weight limits to help parents keep their children safer, longer. Because that’s exactly what this is about: safety.
As a mother of enormous babies — both are in the 98–99th percentiles for height — I know that it can be hard to keep your child rear-facing as they get older. You might feel like they’re getting a little cramped or uncomfortable back there. I’ve gotten plenty of comments from people wondering if my kids have enough room and asking why I haven’t turned them around yet. My answer is always the same.
Rear-facing supports the head, neck, and spine in a way that forward-facing cannot. The car seat itself, when rear-facing, is designed to absorb most of the impact of a crash. And in a car crash, children in rear-facing car seats are five times less likely to be killed or seriously injured.
That’s more than enough of a difference to keep my children rear-facing for as long as we possibly can. Now, I know that there are plenty of reasons for turning your child around as soon as they’re “ready.” And all of us, no matter what we decide to do, are trying to do the best we can for our children.
Sometimes we turn our children around because they get carsick. Other times it’s because they protest and cry when they’re rear-facing. They might cry because they don’t like the position or because they don’t like the car. Sometimes we are just worried that they’re too big and should be turned around.
Children who are prone to motion sickness can have an especially rough time when rear-facing. The sensation of a moving car paired with feeling it backward can trigger that nausea. So can looking out the side windows and seeing the world go by faster than it feels like they’re moving. But this can be helped by blocking the side windows with shades and giving your child a view out the rear window. Bring their car seat as upright as safely allowed, and if possible, remove the vehicle headrest so they can see a little over the top of the seat. Seeing a steadier picture out of that rear window can help keep their stomach settled.
It can be harder to deal with having a kid who screams or cries while rear-facing. And no parent likes to hear a screaming kid while they are trying to concentrate on the road.
Once you establish that they aren’t in any actual pain, try to find ways to keep your child distracted in the car. Having special toys available that they can only use in the car has been helpful for me. Both of my kids have a Scout and Violet stuffed animal from LeapFrog that is programmed to sing songs about their names and favorite things, and I only keep those in the car. Target’s Dollar Spot section is also a great place to find small coloring packs or cheap Magna Doodle pads. I’ve even let my kids go nuts with stickers back there. It’s a mess, but it keeps them happy and safe and allows me to focus.
We spend a lot of time in the car. Driving to appointments and meetings and visiting friends and family makes spending less time in the car not even a small possibility for my family. And that can make the hard trips harder because it’s not like I can pull over and say, “Never mind! We can just skip the doctor’s appointment today.” We have to get through it. So if I have tried everything, and nothing is consoling my kids, I focus on consoling myself. I turn on music I enjoy or a podcast I want to listen to. I might not even be truly listening, but at least I’m getting a break from the Moana soundtrack.
Sometimes, we pull over at the nearest rest area or convenience store to stretch our legs, and other times we just power through.
And if none of this helps and they continue to loudly protest and you continue to have a hard time sitting through that?
All I can offer is a virtual hug and acknowledgment of how much that has to suck. I’ve been there too. Many times. No one likes to hear their kids cry. It makes you feel guilty and stressed, and it is grating as all hell. And when you’re dreading every moment spent in the car because you know how much everyone is going to hate the experience, it feels like turning them around is the only option left.
But please, remember that number. Please remember that your child is 5 times more likely to be fine in a crash if they are rear-facing. When they’re crying or throwing a fit back there, just try to remember that they might be unhappy, but they’re safe.