Screaming child? Check. Flailing arms and legs alternating with stiff-as-a-board posture? Check. Sweating, red-faced adult? Check. The only thing missing is a white van—which at the moment, I am grateful not to have—to make me look like a legit kidnapper. But I’m not a predator. I’m actually just a mom, trying to get my two-year-old into his car seat while passersby debate whether to call the cops.

Experience has taught me that the use of my upper torso and collarbone to smush him into his seat while I’m blindly trying to fasten his five-point restraint as he makes animal noises and screams might not be the solution. Obviously, I can’t leave him at the curb, but his uncanny ability to cage fight from the car seat has left me considering it. Instead, I do what all parents do to develop a trusted parenting strategy: I text my friends. I even reach out to an expert. And because we’re all in this together, I’m sharing my findings with you. Consider this the Holy Grail of Car Seat Drama Diffusion.

What Friends Have to Say

My friends’ responses affirmed that the struggle is real, and it’s neither because of bad parenting nor a personality disorder. For 6 months, my best friend had to ask friends, teachers, and once even a stranger (who looked nice) to put her daughter in her car because she was guaranteed a struggle if she tried.

She urged me to remember that this is just the same old nonsensical toddler tantrum but in a really inconvenient place. “Instead of freaking out more, try to block out the strangers staring at you, take a deep breath and a step back and just ride it out.” This is obviously harder than it seems when you’re sweating bullets and your grocery cart is rolling away. But she’s right. Sometimes, the best way to de-escalate the situation is simply not to engage.

Related: 8 Phrases to Bring a Toddler Back from the Brink

But what happens when you’re in a rush, or there’s a car waiting for your spot, or you’ve had all that you can take and you just. want. to. get. home. already? Try the Jedi Eye Trick. You really have to center yourself before doing this; otherwise, you’ll end up glaring at your child, which will make the matter worse. Instead of reasoning, bargaining, pleading, or despairing, take a deep breath, plaster a pleasant but bored expression on your face, and go for eye contact. It might take a minute, but when they see that you’re doing the opposite of what they expect, close the deal by making comforting physical contact. A leg rub or (if you can get it) a handhold means you’re money. Cue the relaxed posture as your child goes from viewing you as an antagonist to a tender-hearted nurturer.

Expert Advice and Top Tips

When I asked an expert how best to diffuse a car seat meltdown, she immediately suggested that parents recognize the problem for what it is: a power struggle. “Toddlers have very little say in what they do and when,” says Teresa Woodruff, a licenced professional counselor and art therapist who is the owner and clinical director of Art it Out Therapy Center in Atlanta. (She is also a mother of three.) “When we put them in the car, it is constraining. Also, it separates them from us, which often causes anxiety. Screaming is a way for them to communicate that they don’t want to be stuck.”

Here are a few tips for easing the car seat struggle:

Distraction is key

They’re just way too young to understand our logic, says Woodruff, so your best bet is to dangly a shiny thing and distract, distract, distract. Some fun ways to keep them entertained:

  • hand them a favorite toy or book
  • sing a silly song
  • ask them to repeat animal noises or sounds
  • tell them a funny joke or two

Give them choices

As a toddler parent, you’re now well aware that giving your tot the illusion of control is your secret weapon and a lot of the time this translates to giving choices. You can start empowering your little leader when you’re leaving the house and go from there. Some examples:

  • Do you want to bring your green dinosaur or your blue dinosaur in the car?
  • Do you want to close the door or should I?
  • Do you want to be the line leader (a coveted position, always) or should I?
  • Do you want to climb into the car all by yourself or should mummy/daddy help you?
  • Do you want me to put on your favorite song before or after we buckle you up?

Make up a job

Let your creative juices flow and come up with some kind of seemingly very important job for your little to tackle while you calmly and swiftly insert them into their car seat. They could be on the lookout for any number of things (very cool birds, yellow cars, etc.) or the official car key holder while you do up their harness. They could also be in charge of buckling their straps, which gives them some skin in this car seat game.

Incentivise their ride

Find a book or toy that your toddler really loves and only give it to them in the car. They’ll have something to look forward to each ride (once they’ve allowed you to buckle them in, of course) and you’ll save yourself another trip to the chiropractor.

When all else fails… bubbles

“If you really want to go above and beyond, keep a small container of bubbles in your bag to blow anytime your child is struggling with the transition into a car seat,” Woodruff says. “This distraction can get them over the initial shock of being constrained.” Bubbles, as it turns out, really do make everything better.

My Kid’s Take

I also go straight to the source: my nearly 4-year-old. I tell her that I am trying to help other parents figure out what to do when their kids won’t get in their car seats. Wise beyond her years (and also a little frighteningly opportunistic), she puts down her muffin, looks me squarely in the eye, and says, “Tell him he can watch a show when he gets home. Or sing him a song.” Maybe it’s that simple. I’m not above trying it, that’s for sure.

At the end of the day, car seat meltdowns are stressful for everyone—your toddler included. Try to keep calm. Avoid raising your voice or trying to force your child into the car seat; it’s just going to fuel their fire, escalate their mood, and cement their determination. It’s a bumpy road, but you’ll get down it—and hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you avoid losing a tire along the way.

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