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Transfer Your Sleeping Child From a Car

Have You Ever Tried To Move Your Sleeping Child From A Carseat Without Waking Them Up? It Probably Ended In An Epic Fail, Am I Right? Click Through To Learn From My Mistakes - How To Successfully Transfer Your Sleeping From The Car Seat To A Bed AND How You Can Get Your Child To Not Fall Asleep In The Car! Toddler Sleep | Child Won’t Sleep | #sleepbabylove #sleeptips #toddlersleep #toddler #toddlerlife #preschool

If ever you need to learn how to transfer your sleeping child from a car – take note!

True Story.  On a Sunday, it was noon, and lunch just ended.  My daughter B (then 3.5 years old) was in a great mood, so I figured now is a great time to quickly run to the library to pick up a Pinkalicious book that she has been asking for.  Brooke naps at 1:00 pm and our library are so close – what’s the worst thing that can happen?

(Side note: the library in my town doesn’t open until 1:00 pm, so this entire story didn’t involve going to the library after all – but instead driving to town 5 minutes away, and realizing the library was closed and driving home.  Bummer.)

Here I am driving back from my 5-minute drive to town, and as I’m pulling in my neighborhood, I look back, and B is sleeping.

Seriously??? After 5 minutes?

So I pull out all of the tricks in the book, and I start singing and tickling her leg, but I knew I was too late.  It was 12:20 pm.  Bummer…

The good news is that I’m not new at having B fall asleep in the car – the bad news is that I’m not successful at transferring her from the car to the bed.  I probably have better odds of gambling in Vegas.  But… she’s older than three, so if she doesn’t nap, it’s not the worst thing in the world but I’m still often stuck in nap purgatory.  So what’s a mom to do?

The golden rule of naps and cars: 

Of course, the sleep consultant in me will tell you the following rule to having your child not fall asleep in the car:

“Protect your child’s nap by not driving in the car around nap time”

But that being said, I know that you have some living to do – and I know that you (like me) didn’t meeeeannn (told in a really sheepish way) to have your kid fall asleep in the car.  But it does happen! 

Here are some tips and tricks to get your child transferred successfully from the car to the bed.  These tips are mostly geared toward the toddler out of an infant seat, so I will refer to a big kid bed but feel free to use the same advice if transferring to a crib.

How to successfully transfer your child from the car seat to the bed:

  • If you know in advance that you will have a high risk fall asleep issue, change your child’s diaper and feed them before your departure.  This way, if they do fall asleep and you are successful at transferring them to the bed or crib, you don’t need to worry about anything other than getting them down.
  • If your child has Velcro shoes, feel free to undo them before you start driving since Velcro is loud, and that is not something you will not want to hear while trying to covertly not wake your kid up.
  • Unzip any jackets or take off hats while your child is in the car seat before you get ready to move them.

How can you get your child to not fall asleep in the car? 

If you are on a moderate length ride, the best way to not have your child fall asleep is a distraction.

  • Try talking, singing, telling funny stories, or start a game of “I spy” to keep your child distracted.
  • If your hand can reach back to your child (safely…you are driving), try tickling or stroking their hands or legs to help your child stay awake.
  • Try raising and lowering the radio volume to help your child not zone out.
  • If your child is like mine, once they go down, it’s hard to get them up.  Raise your hands and say, you tried hard and hope you can transfer successfully from the car seat to the bed.

 Bring out your mantras to keep your child awake in the car (what works for me!):

So going back to my daughter, B, this is what worked for me to transfer from the car to the bed successfully:

  • Thankfully she was wearing Bogs (slip off winter boots), so they were easy to take off, and she rarely will ever let us zip her coat, so that was helpful too.
  • After carefully undoing the car seat, I hoisted her over my shoulder like a wet noodle (or a sack of potatoes if that gives you an excellent visual).  Limp holds are good since that means they are probably still sleeping.
  • I proceeded to whisper, “shh, shhhh, shhh, you’re still sleeping” over and over. I’m not exactly sure if there is anything scientific about this mantra, but I believe that when she hears it, she thinks she is sleeping so she doesn’t wake up.  I continued with the mantra until she was in her room and quietly set her in her bed and walked out.  I held my breath until that point – but it worked!

So Sunday was a good day.  B was successfully transferred to the bed, and she napped.  All of the angels were singing, and my husband and I were high fiving!  Best of all, we got 1.5 hours when both kids were sleeping.  Double high five!

Do you have any tried-and-true ways to transfer successfully from the car seat to the bed?  Of course, I’m sure that in a future blog, I will talk about how a well-rested child might not fall asleep in the car – but I am a very non-judgmental sleep consultant as I hope you are non-judgmental readers.

(this is an old post – but the story and great tips are applicable for this blog still!  Eeek, B is 10 now!)


Susie Parker

Susie Parker is founder of Sleep Baby Love and a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute. When Susie's not ridding the world of sleepless families, she loves spending time with her two girls that have given her a ton of real world sleep experience head on.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Hi, I have just been told that it is not advisable to to have your child (ours is 18m) wake up in a different location from where it went to sleep. ie. Fell asleep in car seat woke in bed. How much of an issue is it ?

    Many thanks, Grant. .

    1. You are absolutely correct! The best and safest scenario is to fall asleep in the crib. Many babies won’t transfer or will wake right away when they do. My daughter in this story was over 3 years old. Thanks for asking.

  2. I LOVE this:

    “I proceeded to whisper, “shh, shhhh, shhhh, you’re still sleeping” over and over. I’m not exactly sure if there is anything scientific about this manta but I believe that when she hears it, she believes she is sleeping so she doesn’t wake up.”

    cracks me up. I feel you.

  3. I read this as I sit in my truck in the driveway with my 3.5 yr old sleeping in the backseat. Luckily she transferred out of the walmart shopping cart, don’t think I’ll take my chances on any further tranfers this time around ? Now the question is do I turn the engine off and try to escape….

    1. yeah…probably not worth it to press your luck 🙂 Check out my nap purgatory blog – I have a feeling you may relate!

  4. Great post! My kids are past napping age now, but I did a LOT of transfers from the car with them –usually successful, but not always. I did shhhh like you, and if they stirred much I quietly told them “mommy’s taking you to your bed.” I’d put my hand gently on the back of their head and lay their head on my shoulder and shush if they picked their heads up. It was stressful then, but a sweet memory for me now (my youngest are 6).

  5. Unfortunately mine wake up either the minute the car stops or the minute the door opens. The first started that at 2 weeks (!). The second waited until she was on a more regular 2 nap schedule. At least I could move her infant seat into her room and have her finish out a sleep cycle before then. I have actually never successfully removed a child from the car seat and put her in a crib or bed – ever.

    1. you are not alone! My oldest looked at a car and fell asleep and my youngest, never fell asleep in the car! Go figure!

    1. Oh my GOSH!!!! It worked! It worked it worked!!!! I was 1000% sure it was a failure as he popped up the second I took him out of the seat, but I shhhhhh’d the whole way up to his crib and laid him down. He cried for a minute tops and he’s now sleeping! Gahhhh!!!! Thank you!!!

  6. My 2 year old grandson will nap most days for 2 hours. Some days he doesn’t nap at all. My question should I phase out napping all together? He wakes at 7:30 naps at 12 or 1 then wakes at 3:30. Goes to bed around 8 or 8:30. Today he napped at 2 and so far as of this post is still asleep. Mind you he has 6 teeth coming in and has hit the terrible 2′ s at 18 months. Any advice for a grandmother raising her g randson? Thanks in advance.

    1. don’t phase out napping!!! just start setting consistent limits (with love) and he’ll get out of his phase soon! if necessary cap the nap if bedtime is still an issue.

  7. At one point my then 2 month old daughter would wake up during transferring if you allowed her to stretch in her sleep. Now she is my first and only child (currently 3 months old tomorrow) so I’m not sure if I did this right or not. During stretching she would purposely tip her head back, arch her back, and make froggie legs. So my solution that worked is to not allow her to stretch. When taking her out of the car seat, the second I loosened the straps she would stretch. So I would quickly put my hand under the straps on her chest with a small amount of pressure that she would push against in trying to stretch, then give up. Then when lifting her from the carrier I would put my hand behind her neck and shoulders and tuck her chin forward so she couldn’t arch her neck which then she wouldn’t arch her back and do froggie legs. It didn’t matter how jostled she got, if she didn’t stretch, she stayed sleeping. Now she stays sleeping for most everything so long as you pick her up supporting her head and butt. She has full head/neck control so there are times I’m able to pick her up under her arms.

  8. What happens if it doesn’t work?! My kid NEVER transfers – he’s 3 yrs 2 mo. And we normally avoid the situation but it does happen. I just tried to sneak him into bed, but he woke right up. Should I just leave him in his dark room and tell him it’s naptime? This is what I would normally do but he’ll prob just lay in bed awake for at least an hour or more. Is “rest time” okay if he refuses to nap?

  9. I have never been able to successfully transfer my babe – he’s now 12 months old. I try to never drive close to nap time (unless it’s a farther drive then we aim for nap time!). But if he does fall asleep – 5, 10, 15 min – he wakes up the moment I open his door, bright as can be. I can take him upstairs and he’s sleepy and tired but he will not fall asleep. He’s an otherwise super star sleeper (12 hours every night, great napper). I don’t know what to do! Sometimes it’s necessary, and we’re hoping to do some travelling soon so I need him to get his naps in on the go!

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