Getting kids into the car and buckled in can be a hassle in and of itself, and once the little ones figure out how to unbuckle their own seat belts then there is one more thing to look out for. It doesn’t help that the button used to unbuckle belts is usually bright red; big red buttons and kids do not mix well.
To combat this, children have to know the importance of seat belts and adults have to know whether or not children are secured in their seats at all times. This is much easier said than done, of course, but using the right kind of encouragement over time will result in children growing up with good seat belt habits that will keep them safe as teenagers and adults.
Part 1 of 2: Before you get into the car
Step 1: Make sure kids know about seat belts. It’s your job to make sure they know that seat belts are there to keep them safe and in their seats in the event of an accident.
Don’t scare them into using their seat belts by making it sound like car accidents happen extremely frequently, since that may create issues in the future, but gently inform them of the purpose and importance of a seat belt.
Step 2: Make sure kids know how to buckle and unbuckle their seat belts. In most cases, this makes kids feel more responsible and more in control when buckled in.
If kids are not allowed to unbuckle themselves, they may start unbuckling themselves as a game or just for attention from a parent or guardian.
They will figure out how to use the seat belt pretty quickly just by watching you, so teaching them how to buckle and unbuckle a seat belt doesn’t change much except their attitudes towards car safety.
Step 3: Be an example and show the importance of the seat belt. Always buckle your seat belt right when you get into the car.
Children are extremely observant and will notice this behavior. Make sure all adult passengers use their seatbelts at all times when the car is moving, as consistency is the key to forming good habits.
Part 2 of 2: When you’re in the car
Step 1: Use positive reinforcement. This will make buckling and unbuckling the seat belt an important part of your child’s routine.
Consistency is key here, which is simple if you are accustomed to practicing good seatbelt etiquette yourself. Before you set off, ask everyone in the car if they’ve buckled their seat belts. This includes adult passengers in the car.
Once your child is comfortable with this routine, you can start having them ask everyone in the car if they are buckled up before setting off.
Step 2: Tell your child when to unbuckle their seat belt. If your child unbuckles the seatbelt too early, have them buckle up again before you tell them it's safe to unbuckle.
Then you can get out of the vehicle; this helps make it a habit. Consistently use positive reinforcement when your child waits for your cue to unbuckle their seatbelt and get out of the car.
Step 3: Be as observant as possible. If your child is routinely unbuckling their seatbelt while the car is in motion, normal amounts of supervision may not catch it.
Whenever the car is stopped, check the rearview mirror to see if the child is safely restrained in their seat. If a passenger can turn around and check instead, that is optimal.
By being vigilant with your child and consistent with your own behavior, you can help ensure your child’s safety each and every time you go for a drive. Making car safety into a fun game also teaches children to be responsible and shows that they are being trusted to be safe in the car, rather than being forced to stay buckled in against their will. These good habits will follow your child through their teens and into adulthood, so patience and consistency go a very long way. Have one of YourMechanic’s certified professionals perform an inspection if you notice your seat shaking.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Keep a Child From Unlocking Seat Belts and was authored by Ian Swan.