Many caregivers and children alike–at one point or another–start to long for the days of being able to go on car rides without needing additional, non-standard safety equipment.–Specifically, car seats or booster seats.
While these critically important safety devices have evolved significantly over the years–many even have features which would practically rival the most comfortable of recliners–as a whole, boosters are still grossly misunderstood.
More children are staying in 5-point harnesses for longer, but many still transition out of them, into seat belt positioning booster seats much too early. Because booster seats are still undervalued, they are also underutilized.–Children are not using booster seats for nearly as long as they need to be in order to be adequately protected in the event of a sudden stop or a crash.
But the Law Says…
While your state law may only require a child to use a booster until age 8 (sometimes even younger!), or you may hear that once they’ve reached the “magic height” of 4’9″ that they no longer need a booster seat. However, children do in fact need boosters for much longer than that. On average, children need to use boosters until somewhere between 10-12 years of age, and until they pass The Five-Step Test
Why is a Booster So Important?
It’s important to remember that seat belts are designed to fit adults, not kids. The purpose of a booster seat is that it “boosts” the child up, so that the seat belt fits them properly, contacting the strongest points of their body, further preventing injury to the more vulnerable areas of their body. For more information, there’s a fantastic video which was released by the Car Safety Now organization which can be found on our Facebook page as well as on their website. I strongly recommend watching it, but I will caution you–the subject matter is, of course very serious. The video portrays a car crash, and subsequent injuries are simulated. As such, there are parts of it which some viewers may find too difficult to watch.
What’s Safest for My Child?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. Because there are so many variables to consider, there’s really no one-size-fits-all solution.–An option which might be best for one child may not be the safest option for the next child. Try to keep in mind that transitioning between the various stages of child passenger safety (rear facing to forward facing; forward facing to booster; booster to seat belt) should not be rushed.
You can take a look at some options which I frequently recommend here but for personalized recommendations I invite you to contact me directly. I’m always happy to help!
Installing your child’s seat correctly is just one of the many important parts of properly using that seat. Using the harness correctly plays a vital role in protecting your child in the event of a sudden stop or crash.
Be sure that you check the harness periodically since it will need to be adjusted as your child grows. And remember to always consult your manual for how and when to make those adjustments.
One of the most common complaints that I hear from caregivers is how much they struggle to get a tight car seat installation. Many caregivers feel as though they’re physically unable to do it, despite not necessarily having any physical limitations. Installing a car seat can feel intimidating and overwhelming. However, contrary to popular belief, getting the car seat installed correctly has very little to do with brute strength, and almost everything to do with leverage. While every car seat and vehicle is different – and have their own subtle nuances – I’m going to share some of my favorite tricks which work well for most configurations.
Since leverage is one of your biggest allies, you want to take full advantage of it. Most of the time that will mean that you want to pull the slack both toward you and parallel to the belt path of the car seat.
For example, if you’re installing a car seat using lower anchors (LATCH), you’ll want to look to see where the adjuster is on the lower anchor strap. It will be on the same side of the strap where the “tail” of the strap is located. Most of the time, I find that caregivers will grab ahold of the tail on the outside of the seat and try to tighten it by pulling it away from the car seat. While this seems perfectly logical, this does not utilize the available leverage very effectively. Instead, when possible, you’ll want to position yourself on the opposite side of the car seat that the adjuster piece is located on so that you can pull that “tail” toward you, parallel to the belt path of the car seat. For even better leverage, try pulling the strap inside of the car seat’s belt path and pulling from there. Many times this can be accomplished by pulling the cover of the car seat back at the belt path, and pulling the tail inside of the belt path. After the seat is installed tightly, simply replace and re-secure the cover.
Installing a car seat with a seat belt is very similar. You can often utilize the same method, but instead of pulling on the lower anchor strap’s “tail”, you’ll be pulling the vehicle shoulder belt toward you, over the car seat’s belt path, to better remove all of the slack from the lap belt portion of the seat belt. (Don’t forget to check your manuals for instructions on how to lock the seat belt.)
Remember to only check for movement directly at the applicable belt path on the car seat, and only by using about the same amount of force with which you would use to give somebody a firm handshake. If the car seat moves 1” or less directly at the appropriate belt path, then the car seat is installed tightly. If it’s moving more than that, then repeat the steps above.
Before you install your car seat, please be sure to consult your child safety seat’s owner’s manual for seat-specific installation instructions, as well as your vehicle owner’s manual for vehicle-specific installation instructions. And of course, don’t forget to schedule a seat check with a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
Wintertime, for many of us, means bitterly cold temperatures and biting winds. Packing on the thickest, warmest layers possible seems like the most logical thing to do, but did you know that bundling up under a car seat harness or seat belt can be dangerous?
When bulky layers are worn under a 5-point harness it leaves that passenger vulnerable to injuries in a crash (including being ejected from the safety seat itself!). The reason for this is that even when the harness is tightened over that thick coat (or bunting, or snowsuit, etc.), the jacket will compress in a sudden stop or crash, leaving enough slack in the harness that the safety seat may be unable to protect the child. While unpleasant to think about, it’s important to remember how extreme crash forces are. They’re violent enough that they can crush and tear through vehicle frames. A fluffy jacket or snowsuit wouldn’t stand a chance. But that does not mean that your family will have to suffer through frigid temperatures. There are many ways to stay warm safely while in the car.
Safely Layering Up
For young babies who haven’t yet developed full head control (typically, babies under 6 months of age or so), special care should always be taken to ensure that their head is not at risk for being pushed forward, and that their airway is not blocked or obscured in any way.
Dress your baby in a few thin, warm, snug-fitting layers and buckle them into their seat. Thin, fleece footie pajamas and the like can also be a good option, but snowsuits and buntings should not be used in a car seat. A lightweight, snug-fitting hat, warm mittens, and/or slippers can also be added. After baby is buckled up, several blankets can be tucked in place over the harness to keep them nice and cozy; I often recommend 1-2 lightweight blankets (flannel or cotton ones work nicely). If you’re able to, pre-warm your car to get the heat going.
If you’re using a rear facing only seat (commonly referred to as an infant carrier) and are buckling baby up before going outside, a few thicker blankets can be placed on top of thinner ones for extra warmth while carrying baby to and from the car.
A shower cap-style car seat cover is a low-risk option which can be especially useful on days where it’s precipitating or very windy outside. Conversely, the buntings and car seat covers which are designed to go inside of the car seat, behind the child should not be used. If you already have one, it can be altered so that most of their associated risks are mitigated (see below).
Remember! While it’s important to keep infants warm, they can overheat so once you’re in the car, layer accordingly. *Please note: it is critically important to ensure that any blankets/covers, etc do not interfere with a rear facing only (infant carrier) from fully locking into its base!*
Toddlers & Older
Some of the aforementioned options continue to be valid possibilities with toddlers, but there are additional ones which are worth mentioning (because who doesn’t like to have choices?!)
Chances are, I will always be partial to The Car Seat Poncho brand because these are the original “car seat ponchos” sold by the woman who designed and invented them! Their brilliant (reversible!) design features a zipper which can be unzipped from the top of the poncho by the child’s neck, as well as down by their legs. This makes buckling and unbuckling a breeze, and it means that you’ll never need to flip the poncho over their face/head to gain access to their harness. The back of the poncho simply gets draped over the top/back of the car seat while the front can stay over the child’s body. They’re even made right here in the U.S.A. The Car Seat Poncho has generously offered Super Car Seat Geek readers a coupon for $3 off each poncho with coupon code:SUPERGEEK (offer expires 2/14/18)
There are, of course, many other brands and styles of ponchos available if you prefer. Similarly, if you already have one of those bag-style “Bundle” products, the bottom layer can be detached from the top layer and placed over the child like a wearable lap blanket! Pro tip: if you do this, I’d strongly recommend cutting off the large elastic band, as well as the Velcro around the “arm” openings.
Dressing your child in a thin, single-layer, waist-length, form-fitting fleece jacket is one of my favorite tricks. They are often very inexpensive and surprisingly warm, especially when paired with a cozy hat and mittens! If your child would like to be extra toasty, simply tuck a warm, fuzzy blanket or two over them after they’re buckled up. The blanket(s) can easily be removed if your child starts to get too warm.
Another alternative to a thicker jacket is a down-filled, packable jacket. It should follow the same fit guidelines as described above. With any jacket worn in a car seat, I recommend doing the following “test” to check if it’s a safe choice to wear in the seat:
1) Buckle the child in the car seat without their jacket on & tighten the harness so that it passes the “pinch test”.
2) Remove the child from the seat without loosening the harness.
3) Put their jacket on, and place them back into the car seat.
4) Buckle them back up.
If you’re able to buckle them up again without having to loosen the harness, or only having to loosen it a very small amount, then the jacket is ok to wear in the seat. If the harness had to be loosened more significantly, then it is not a safe option.
A “wearable blanket” can be used by your child after they’re secured in their seat. Like a regular blanket or a poncho, it would go over the harness and drape over the sides of the car seat. This is an especially nice option for older children because it’s usually long enough to cover the child from their neck down to their feet. Additionally, the sleeves permit the child use of his/her arms and hands while still having them covered. If the child gets too warm it’s easily removed.
Preschoolers and Older
The ideas listed above are still perfectly fine to utilize as time goes on. However, once kids start going to school, a very warm jacket is often needed for outdoor-time. Sometimes it just makes more sense to have a traditional, thick winter jacket. While those will continue to be unsafe to wear under a safety restraint, the child can wear it out to the car and remove it prior to buckling up. The jacket can then be put on backwards, over their harness.
Another trick is to unzip a jacket and pull it to the sides of the harness. The jacket can be zipped up over the fastened harness if the child desires, or left unzipped. Note: this is best done with thinner jackets to avoid bulky or compressible fluff behind the child.
Boosters and Beyond
While the “no coats in the car” rule is starting to become more mainstream, few caregivers realize that coats continue to pose safety risks after children transition to a booster seat from their 5-point harness.
Yes, a seat belt can go back and forth to tighten and loosen as needed, and it will lock and tighten in the event of a sudden stop or crash. However, in order for a seat belt to provide optimal protection, it must be contacting the person’s body, not a fluffy jacket. When the latter is the case, the passenger is at increased risk for injuries since the seat belt must fully compress the jacket prior to making contact with the occupant’s body.
Jackets should continue to be thin and lightweight, and should not interfere with the seat belt. The seat belt should make direct contact with the occupant’s lap, and the shoulder belt should lie flat on the occupant’s torso and shoulder. If a thicker jacket is worn in the car, unzipping it and pulling it to the sides of the seat belt will mitigate many of the risks.
Car seats and seat belts need to be tight in order to protect their passenger. Bulky clothing can make them too loose even if they feel tight. Whether you choose to purchase a specialized product, or utilize what you already have on hand, there are a plethora of safe options available to keep the whole family safe and snug all winter long!
Did you know that approximately 80% of kids are in the wrong child safety seat?! There are so many factors to consider when selecting a safety seat for your child that it can quickly become confusing and overwhelming. Let Super Car Seat Geek help take the confusion and uncertainty out of the process with our exclusive Concierge Services.
During this private shopping appointment we’ll discuss which seats would be best options for your particular child, vehicle and budget. We’ll thoroughly discuss the pros, cons, quirks, etc of each seat so that you can make an informed decision, and feel confident that you’ve spent your hard-earned money wisely. This service a necessity for 3-across configurations especially since allows us to try various seats out and find the right combination of seats that work.
Looking for a particular seat which is not available to try out locally? I now offer the option to try out select seats for a nominal upcharge with my ala carte options, available upon request:
Unable to meet up in-person? No problem! The Virtual Concierge Service allows us to “meet” over the phone and/or online! We’ll still discuss the seats which would work best for your particular scenario, discuss their pros/cons, etc, and I will send you links to each one as we’re discussing it so that you can simply click on the link and see exactly what I’m talking about. When you decide which option is the right one for you, just click on that link again and place your order!
Private Car Seat Installation Lesson
Infant Seat/Convertible or Combination Seat/Booster Seat
Did you know that 3 out of 4 car seats or boosters are NOT being used correctly, despite the fact that roughly 90% of caregivers think that they are using them correctly?
Did you know that car crashes are still a leading cause of death to children in the US, but a correctly-installed, correctly-used child safety restraint will vastly reduce their risk for injuries, and increase their chances for survival?
Your car seat check with Super Car Seat Geek will be scheduled at a mutually convenient time and location. Because our appointment will be private, rather than at a clinic setting we aren’t rushed for time. Instead, we can take as much time as we need to ensure that you are comfortable and confident with the proper use and installation of your seat. Not only will you learn how to correctly install it, but also how, and when to make adjustments, how to properly secure your child, how to recognize when it’s time for the “next step”, and so forth. Unlike similar services which can easily cost a couple hundred dollars or more, I do not currently charge a flat rate* for this service. Instead, I allow you, the caregiver to decide what amount is comfortable for your individual circumstances**. For your convenience, I accept cash, check, PayPal, or Venmo.
*Note: if I am traveling out of the area, I will charge a flat, minimum rate which is based on mileage **I will always offer complimentary seat checks to families in need. Simply message me to arrange one.
Be sure to ask about available a la carte options as well!
Kids sure have a way of sprouting up overnight at times, don’t they?Sometimes it can happen so quickly that we don’t even realize how much they’ve grown until we happen to catch a glimpse of them a certain way.Just like clothing sizes need to be adjusted as a child grows, a child’s car seat also needs to be adjusted in various ways to accommodate their growth.
Every car seat is different, and each one has different rules when it comes to adjusting the harness, the buckle, removing inserts, etc so it’s critical to review your manual periodically.This article will specifically address how and when to adjust the height of the harness.
The vast majority of car seat harnesses will adjust for height in one of two ways.—They’ll either have a “traditional rethread” harness, or they’ll have a “no rethread harness”.Again, please review your manual for your specific seat.
Traditional Rethread Harness: Car seats with this style harness will have various slots in the shell (frame) of the car seat which the harness is threaded through, and a metal piece called a splitter plate to which the harness is secured.The splitter plate is attached to one end of the harness adjuster “tail”, which comes through the bottom, front of the car seat and is what is pulled on to tighten the child’s harness.
To decipher where the harness should be, one needs to look at where the child’s shoulders are in reference to the harness slots, and take into account whether the child is rear facing or forward facing.(Remember: Any time that a child is rear facing, the harness must be level with, or below the child’s shoulders; when they’re forward facing, the harness needs to be level with or above the child’s shoulders.Additionally, some car seats have restrictions on which harness slots may be used for each direction so again, it’s critical that you refer to the owner’s manual for the seat.)
Often the easiest way to adjust the height of the harness is to uninstall the car seat, loosen the harness a bit, and turn the car seat over so that you’re looking at the back of it.Slide one side of the harness off of the splitter plate and pull the strap through the front of the car seat.Ensure that there are no twists in the strap and then route the harness strap through the appropriate slot, taking care to place it through the same layer of fabric/padding as the shell of the car seat. Fully re-attach the harness strap to the splitter plate as specified in the manual.Repeat for the other strap, ensuring that both straps are at the same height.After the seat is re-installed, double check that the harness is now at the appropriate height for the child.If you’re unsure if it’s at the correct height, a helpful tip is to place a butter knife or popsicle stick on the child’s shoulders and see where the tip is in relation to the harness slots.
Pro Tip: The harness should always be at the closest slot to the child’s shoulders which is also appropriate for the direction in which they face.
No Rethread Harness: Car seats with this type of harness often adjust by squeezing a handle at the top of the head rest, and pulling the headrest up/pushing the headrest down.As the headrest height changes, so does the harness height.Frequently, this type of harness can be adjusted without having to uninstall the car seat.
Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge exactly where the harness is in relation to the child’s shoulders.Since this style car seat doesn’t have harness slots, the “popsicle stick test” described above isn’t as useful.Instead, what I often advise caregivers to look for is how the harness looks on the shoulders themselves.—Is the harness curving over/around the shoulders (which is what we’d look for when a child is rear facing), or is it angling upward by the child’s shoulders (which is what we’d look for when a child is forward facing)?
After the harness is adjusted to the appropriate height, the caregiver should ensure that the head rest is locked into place so that it’s not “between” adjustment settings.
These are only two examples out of many. The car seat which you have may adjust in a different way altogether. The car seat manual will always explain how and when to make adjustments. If further clarification is needed, caregivers can contact the car seat manufacturer directly. Meeting with a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician is the best way to ensure that your child’s seat is not only adjusted correctly, but installed correctly as well. You can schedule an appointment with Super Car Seat Geek via Facebook, email, or the “Contact Us” portion of the website.