A bucket for his little brain
June 22, 2012 2:35 PM   Subscribe

My 19-month old son refuses to wear his bike helmet. This is harshing my alternative transportation buzz.

Six months ago I asked this question, and ever since I have been loving our bike trailer. My older son now prefers the trailer to any other form of transportation, which is great.

Starting about two weeks ago, my younger son protests at the sight of the helmet. We have checked the fit and it is the right size, he just refuses to wear it. Sometimes he will let me put it on him, and then he will pull at it and scream for the entire ride. Mostly he just flails about so I can't put it on.

Having his brother along to model good helmet-wearing doesn't help even though he usually wants to do everything Big Brother does. I always wear a helmet while riding too. That does not persuade him.

Is this a phase? I am really bummed to have to take the car places that I would prefer to ride. Any tips for getting over this hurdle?

If bribery works, suggestions would be appreciated.
posted by ambrosia to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can he communicate what he hates about it? I'm wondering if the weather's a lot warmer this time of year where you are, and now wearing the helmet making him hot and sweaty and uncomfortable.

Would he be into decorating it with stickers? Can you give it a name and make it a funny character?
posted by juliplease at 2:41 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it the chin strap? Like have you ever tried having the guys wear their helmets at home without the chin straps just to see if that's the bottleneck here?
posted by cairdeas at 2:42 PM on June 22, 2012

Are there helmet laws in your state? If not, why does he need to wear a helmet? My kids (4yo and 17mo) do not wear helmets in the trailer.

Two things that I have learned from other big-time, die-hard cycling parents which I finally realized and agree with: 1) The helmet can actually be a choking hazard for young ones, even if the fit is correct--kids get into the strangest situations and you wouldn't always be looking at them while they are pulling on the helmet and inadvertently strangling themselves; 2) The bike trailer IS a giant helmet in some ways.

Also remember that helmets only protect for certain head injuries, not the other 99 ways you can get hurt while cycling.
posted by TinWhistle at 2:43 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

California has a helmet law that requires everyone under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while riding a bike, as a passenger in a bike seat or in a bike trailer.

I'm also trying to stay consistent so that my four year old doesn't start asking why he has to wear a helmet when his brother doesn't.

My son is starting to talk, but is not yet able to verbalize exactly what the problem is. He just says "Noooooooo! No Emmet!"
posted by ambrosia at 2:54 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

He might just not like having stuff on his head. This was me when I was a kid. Maybe call it a spaceman helmet or something.
posted by edbles at 2:59 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perhaps it scratches/bothers his skull? I don't know where you'd find one in baby size, but perhaps a skullcap liner of some kind would help.

Does he mind wearing normal hats or beanies?
posted by jacalata at 3:00 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

My son didn't want to wear his helmet, either - but he disliked having the prospect of going for a bike ride taken away more. As soon as he internalized that no helmet meant no riding, he got over it. We probably started riding at 3 years and change.

YMMV, and every kid is different, of course.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:04 PM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Helmet on = bike ride. Yay!

Helmet off = stop the bike. Wait. (bring a book if needed.) as soon as helmet is back on, bike ride. Yay!

Same with screaming while parent cycles, seatbelt, and other safety issues. You can also remove him from the bike .every.single.time. the helmet leaves his head. My son was, and is, excellent at saying "No" but when safety was involved, it was no contest.

You could try a different helmet, in case it just feels bad.
posted by theora55 at 3:08 PM on June 22, 2012 [18 favorites]

It might just be a phase. It was for one of my kids. We just didn't make her wear the helmet, because we're negligent like that. She outgrew the phrase pretty quickly and now wears her helmet happily.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:10 PM on June 22, 2012

Does he like stickers? Give him some stickers of a character he likes or whatever he picks out and let him cover the darn helmet with the stickers. Maybe that will make him want to wear it. Did you put all of the cushions in? Maybe it is uncomfortable. My daughter likes to wear the helmet only when I put it on her because I don't choke her with the strap.

Good luck!
posted by Yellow at 3:12 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you take him to a store to pick out a new helmet?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:13 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does your little one have a favorite animated movie or cartoon character? Our boys (now 3 & 5) have always loved picking out their own helmets. Toy Story, Cars, Spiderman, etc. Normally, I'm opposed to the way things are marketed to kids (especially Disney stuff), and in a perfect world I'd like every penny to go to making a great helmet rather than licensing fees, but the tradeoff has been that they are so jazzed about their helmets that we can barely get them to take them off.
posted by gimli at 3:15 PM on June 22, 2012

Try habituating to wearing the helmet a few minutes at a time at home, bribing him with rewards for wearing it longer.
posted by bq at 3:19 PM on June 22, 2012

At his age, some things in life you have to do because one of your parents says you have to do them.

No helmet = no ride.

You don't get extra points for doing what you're supposed to do. Teach him this now, or teach him this later, but he needs to learn it.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:35 PM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

As an ER doctor I applaud your dedication to the helmet - trust me, it is for a really good reason. Yes, there are 99 other ways to get hurt on a bike, but most of those other 99 other ways will hurt parts of your body that bounce back a lot better than your brain. And I completely disagree that the trailer itself provides a helmet level of protection.

I think if there are a few times when someone is staying home who could watch him, but he could go along with you and Big Brother for the fun ride if he wore the helmet, and you leave him behind because he won't wear it nicely, he'll get the picture!

I am curious to know whether people who let their children not wear helmets if they complain about it also let them not wear seat belts in the car if they don't want to? (that is a rhetorical question...)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:40 PM on June 22, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think if there are a few times when someone is staying home who could watch him, but he could go along with you and Big Brother for the fun ride if he wore the helmet, and you leave him behind because he won't wear it nicely, he'll get the picture!

This seems like pretty much the only option. Our eldest son hated wearing helmets, so it was a real struggle, but our youngest doesn't mind. The trick is to find a helmet that fits well, and where the chin strap is not uncomfortable.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:46 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my kids hated hats in general. When in the sun we would try to have him wear a baseball hat. Not going to happen.

I would try talking to him and telling him that he cannot ride without a helmet. Tell him you are riding to the ice cream store. Does he want to come and wear his helmet or stay home and do nothing.

He needs to have an incentive to go for the ride, an incentive to wear the helmet and an incentive to not stay home.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:47 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's race season. Perhaps you could watch the Tour de France with both of them and point out that all the big boys are wearing their helmets.
posted by tully_monster at 4:25 PM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. At 19 mos, I'd skip trying to use reason or rationality. I would have a "Let's Mess Up These Helmets!" party and turn the helmet into a loved toy.

I had just such a party when my boys were 3 and 4 and refused to wear their helmets. We painted them, glued on some googly eyes and some little horns I made from wine corks. After that they wouldn't take the helmets OFF without a fuss.
posted by snsranch at 4:49 PM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Can he pretend to be a superhero when he is wearing the helmet?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:27 PM on June 22, 2012

You know what did it for us? There is a Sesame Street episode where Elmo's World is all about bikes (I think the episode is called Elmo Rides a Tricycle or something like that)- and this little bike helmet keeps popping up and saying "Not without meeeee" in a really gravelly voice. After watching the episode, our daughter went from a helmet-hater to a helmet-lover. So if your little guy is at all in to Elmo, that just might do the trick.

And ditto what treehorn+bunny said - one of my best friends runs the pediatric rehabilitation unit at a major hospital. Much of her job involves working with kids who have been severely handicapped by not wearing helmets when they should. She has told me enough horror stories to thoroughly convince me that helmets are a must on anything with wheels or hooves.
posted by dirtmonster at 7:06 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think if there are a few times when someone is staying home who could watch him, but he could go along with you and Big Brother for the fun ride if he wore the helmet, and you leave him behind because he won't wear it nicely, he'll get the picture!

Yep, it's that simple. Riding and all the fun it presents are only available with a helmet. He'll come to the right decision. Expect to be tested, prepare (The bring a book idea is good; don't be flapped, just wait it out), and eventually the doing nothing will become a lot less interesting and the wearing of a helmet to ride will seem like a good trade. Hey, you just can't ride without a helmet! Make it that simple a world for him - because really, it is.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

When he has the helmet on, have you let him headbutt things? We haven't had this issue but maybe it'll get more fun if he knows it protects his head from pain?
posted by geek anachronism at 8:02 PM on June 22, 2012

I dunno, I have a good helmet but it still hurts my neck and kind of bluntly thuds if I hit something. Not sure that experience will be a selling point for a toddler.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on June 22, 2012

Loosen the strap, did you already do that? Ok, loosen it more. Seriously, get it really loose.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:07 PM on June 22, 2012

Has he been pinched by the buckle in the past? I know as a child, that sent me into wailing hysterics for a little bit, cus that mofo HURT. That may be part of the hatred.

I know a few brands now are doing magnetic buckles that OMG NEVER PINCH. It is a freakin' revelation to me, even as an adult. I believe Nutcase! is one such brand. Bonus: they make helmets from infant to adult sizes in the same patterns. If it gets him to wear it, would matching helmets for everyone be so bad? (And if you're driving the bike and not wearing a helmet? #1: no wonder he's fussing about the helmet, and #2: consider yourself Mom Look'd. You know that angry look moms get.)

Definitely, though, the big thing will help be time, patience and reinforcement. If worst comes to worst, there's always gaff-taping over the buckle, and having the removal be at your discretion. This worked a treat for a kid I knew who was doggedly determined to not wear a helmet EVAH, much to her parent's dismay.
posted by Hwin at 10:47 PM on June 22, 2012

It might be giving him a headache due to the shape of his head. I HAVE to wear long oval headaches or I get terrible headaches and those shape helmets aren't common in the US, where most helmets are only carried in round shape in most stores. I get tender spots above my temples/ ears from ill fitting helmets and a bad headache that is instantly relieved when the helmet comes off. See if he has sore spots on his head after wearing it, around his temples and the wide parts near his ears. If he won't wear it long enough to test that see if it's tight at the widest point of his head and loose at the back and front. If you can kind of rock it back and forth or if they padded it out front and back at the store to get it to fit, it's almost certainly pinching. I grew up riding horses so I've had a lot of practice trying to find helmets that fit. Long oval helmets are available, but you usually have to order them.

I also got one concussion from an ill fitting helmet, It was too big so it didn't pinch and I had padded the front to stop it from falling over my eyes. I fell and didn't hit my head but the helmet snapped backwards, pivoting on the pinch point at my temple and slammed into the back of my head and neck. I had a huge raised bump from it all across the top of my neck, classic tunnel vision and "stars" and it badly bruised my jaws just behind my ears. There were a lot of instances of buckled helmets coming off over the front of people's heads at that time too or coming half off and choking the wearer, and manufacturers did eventually start offering additional shapes. But of course kids helmets are more limited.

If you have a funny shaped head helmets can literally be a pain!
posted by fshgrl at 1:13 AM on June 23, 2012

You could try getting something like this to go over his helmet.

Better quality versions are available.
posted by emilyw at 2:23 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our sixteen-month-old is infinitely happier with the helmet if we put a pillow behind his back. Without the pillow, the helmet kind of forces his head forward, and I think he feels like he loses some control over his own head. When I noticed what was happening, I thought, whoa! Little dude looks physically uncomfortable, and he can't easily move his own body to make himself feel more comfortable. Check to make sure there isn't something basic like this going on.
posted by linettasky at 9:19 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Long-overdue followup: We took a little break from the bike trailer, so that he didn't always see it as a battle. Did a few stints of wearing my bike helmet around the house, which made him want to wear his helmet, so we just wore our helmets around the house for a while on a couple of afternoons. For the first ride in the bike trailer, brought along his favorite most annoying giggling Elmo toy (it's a perfect place for it, in retrospect- he's entertained and I can't really hear the giggling that normally sets my teeth on edge.)

(We do already put a folded-up blanket behind him so that his head isn't pushed forward by the helmet. It helps, but it's not enough.)

He lasted about 20 minutes before pulling his helmet off, but that's progress. Next item: bike ride to get ice cream, but only if he keeps his helmet on.

Thanks everyone!
posted by ambrosia at 1:40 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Even longer-overdue followup: despite some promising progress, we never really achieved full helmet compliance. So a few months ago I took him down to the local bike shop, and let him pick out a helmet. Surprise! The kids' helmets were all too small, even though he is all of two and a half, and so he is rocking an adult small Nutcase. Bonus: the magnetic clasp really is pinch-proof.

Since then, absolutely no problems. I'm using the bike trailer so much the battery pooped out in my car from lack of use. Yay!
posted by ambrosia at 3:42 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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