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Why Eva Should Wear Her Seat Belt

By Cathy Radziewicz for The Children's Movement of Florida

The other day, I overheard a mother with her 3-year-old child wrapped around her leg approach a police officer and say, "Will you tell Eva why she has to wear her seatbelt? She keeps taking it off."

As someone who has taught parenting classes for years, I can handle this one:

Eva, you have to wear your seat belt not because this policeman could give me a ticket and fine, but for the most important reason in the world - because I love you. If you didn't wear one and we got into a car crash, you would hit the front seat or windshield with up to 900 pounds of force, and you could be severely injured or killed.

You are too young to understand what death is, or how a crash can mangle a body. But as your mother, I have the life experience to know these things.

I understand that you do not understand, and that a logical explanation of the facts won't matter to you. Because you are 3, I know you want what you want when you want it. There won't be a time when I explain something and you will say, "Oh, yes, Mother! Now I understand. I am convinced that you are correct and I will comply."

So in this case, I should not waste my breath or my patience trying to reason with a 3-year-old. The right response is simply: "Eva, I am your mother and I told you to!" End of discussion.

Parents make decisions because they have the life experience to know what is best for their children. Preschoolers can say what they like to eat, or what book they want read, or which toy they want to play with. Seat belts, however, are a matter of life and death.

Be the parent. Not a friend, not a tyrant, not a wimp. Giving a child a short explanation is respectful and worth doing, and over time that can help teach the child. But debating with a preschooler is pointless.

You don't need a police officer. You just need to be a parent.

Cathy Radziewicz, the mother of three, has 34 years of experience as an early childhood educator. In that time she has held a number of preschool positions, including teacher and lead teacher, STEP parenting educator, teacher trainer, early childhood curriculum specialist, assistant director and director of two South Florida preschools. She has also spoken at several early childhood conferences around the state about age-appropriate activities.