I’m a mother of three children. You mess with my kids and I will mess you up. I will make a mama bear look tame. I would jump in front of a freight train to save their lives. It’s likely that you’d do the same.
You can’t be bothered to use their car seat correctly.
You’re screaming down the road at 75 MPH, your latte in one hand and you’re gabbing to Aunt Frances about Little Caitlin’s First Birthday Party on speakerphone, and Caitlin is screaming her little head off in the back seat while big brother Tristan is singing the theme song from Diego just loudly enough to lodge itself in the one free part of your brain that’s currently helping you keep it between the ditches.
Suddenly, you stop, and not as you intended to stop. You’re now sideways against another vehicle. (I’ll let you pick here: Honda Civic, Toyota Tacoma, dump truck, semi…at this point it doesn’t really matter.)
Tristan is unconscious because he has “submarined” under the adult sized seatbelt that was restraining his booster seat that you insisted on putting him in because “He’s three and he’s a big boy!” and he’s now in the floor. Caitlin is screaming louder than ever because she’s just taken a ride up the back side of her rear facing seat because her straps were too loose and she slid up the back of the seat and promptly went back down with a hard THUD on her little cloth diapered bottom. (No offense to you cloth diaperers out there.) Meanwhile, you’re covered in your grande latte and Aunt Frances thinks you hung up on her.
Quite the picture, huh?
“Well, that won’t happen to me! I’m a safe driver!”
Guess what? That fool texting and shifting gears to pass you is NOT a safe driver. The semi driver who’s been driving since Ft. Worth, Texas is kind of sleepy and didn’t mean to drift over into your lane.
Here’s the bottom line: I want you to USE YOUR CAR SEATS CORRECTLY!!!!! It’s SO easy. Really. I promise. I’ll even show you how, tell you how, whatever it takes to make you USE the seat CORRECTLY. They’re made and designed a certain way to help protect your child in an accident. The seats that are out today are totally different than the seats that were available ten years ago. Every time (and I mean EVERY time) I’m out in public, I see at least one thing wrong with someone’s car seat use. I can spot it in the car next to me at a red light and I can spot it at the other end of the aisle in Target or Publix. I see it in your Facebook posts and it makes me want to pull my hair out.
First, before you buy a seat, do a little research. Explore multiple brands. Don’t fixate on just one brand. A seat that costs $55 is just as safe as a seat that costs $400. They ALL must pass a 35 MPH crash test in order to be made available for sale in the USA. “My friend bought a Britax and she says they’re just the best seat out there.” Newsflash: Britax is NOT the best seat. Neither are any of the others. If you don’t hear anything else, hear this:
THE BEST SEAT FOR YOUR CHILD IS THE ONE THAT FITS YOUR VEHICLE, FITS YOUR CHILD, AND THAT YOU WILL USE CORRECTLY 100% OF THE TIME.
That’s the best seat. Honest. Scout’s Honor.
When you do finally decide on which seat meets all of that criteria, then go home, take it out of the box, and then READ THE MANUAL. Guess what? There’s really critical info in that booklet that you need to know and that could save your child’s life. I know it’s not going to be as thrilling as a John Grisham novel, but it’s put in the box for a reason. If you don’t understand something, call the company and ask them what it means or get them to clarify something for you.
Let’s talk about rear facing versus forward facing. (From here on out, RF or FF, respectively.) I see somewhat of a “milestone mentality” when it comes to RF vs. FF. People think that because their child has turned one year old they should just turn them around so they can see. Newsflash: They don’t care. And they’re not going to be sitting back there telling you to turn left at the third stop sign. Their little bodies are still fragile and their bones haven’t quite fused yet. Wanna hear what can happen if you get in a frontal crash? No? I’m going to tell you anyway. It’s called internal decapitation. Granted, that’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s essentially cutting their head off inside, but everything on the outside appears to be normal. Their little spinal cord can snap. What happens to us (adults) in a crash? Generally, we get some whiplash. When you have that happen to a child whose head is a large majority of its body weight, bad stuff happens internally. When they’re RF, the crash forces spread out all over the back of the head, all down the back and down to where their hips bend into the seat. Take a moment and poke yourself in the arm as hard as you can. Hurts, doesn’t it? Now, press the same spot just as hard, but with your palm flat open. Doesn’t hurt now, does it? That’s because you spread out the force over a larger area. It’s the same concept with your child’s neck and then their body into their seat. Regarding RF, since 2002 the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended RF until AT LEAST two years old. The better choice is to RF to the maximum limits of your child’s particular seat, when they outgrow it by either height or weight. (Your manual will tell you specific height and weight for RF use.) A RF seat is outgrown when the child has reached the weight limit, or when they have less than one inch of the hard plastic shell over their head. It is completely OKAY to RF until they’re 35-45 lbs, or 3-4 years old. They don’t care that their legs are hitting the seat, or that they have to cross their legs to fit. There are far fewer instances of broken legs from a child being RF than a child suffering a traumatic injury because they were turned FF too soon. Remember this: Broken leg(s)? Cast it. Broken neck? Casket.
Your big kid is ready to turn around well past their second birthday. The longer you can RF, the better. When the time comes to turn to FF, continue to use the five-point harness. That harness is made to fit a little body. The adult sized seatbelt in your vehicle is not made to fit a child/toddler/baby. Have you ever been in a car that had child sized seatbelts? With the exception of a few makes of cars that had built-in child restraints, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you haven’t. All of the belt systems in pretty much any vehicle are made for adults. Remember that when you think Tristan is ready to ride in that belt.
The five-point harness also has a height and weight limit. Again, read that manual. It’ll tell you the maximum weight limits for the harness. And speaking of harnesses, make sure you’re using it the right way. If the child is RF, those harness straps should be AT or BELOW their shoulders. If the child is FF, the straps should be AT or ABOVE the shoulders. When the seat is FF, those straps also need to be run through one of the seat’s reinforced slots. (Read the manual, it’ll tell you where they are!) There’s also a little device across the middle of the straps called a harness retainer clip, aka chest clip. Please take special note of the name I just used: CHEST clip. Not belly clip. That means it goes across the chest, generally about armpit level. Some of the new Evenflo seats have it embossed into the plastic right on the chest clip. It says “PLACE AT ARMPIT LEVEL” right across the bottom. One more thing about that harness: remember when we had our wreck earlier and Caitlin slid up the seat? She’s lucky she wasn’t ejected from the seat. She slid because her straps were too loose. There’s a place somewhere on your child’s seat to adjust the tightness of the harness. Most newer seats have it right on the front, and you just give it a tug until the harness is tight enough. I always tell people the harness should be “Snug as a hug”. That way, it’s not pressing them down into the seat so they can’t breathe, but it’s also not so loose that they could be ejected. (Yes, it CAN happen. I’ve read several reports of it happening. One child was even thrown from the car and into a snow bank because her harness was too loose.)
When it comes time to put the seat in the car, it’s not just a simple matter of buckling it into a seat. There’s a reason we call it car seat installation. First, use only ONE method to install: seatbelt OR LATCH, not both. The seat has been crash tested using both methods, but not using both methods at the same time. Neither is safer than the other. Use whichever method gets you the tightest installation. Just because you get a good install with LATCH in one vehicle does not mean you’ll get a good install with the same method in a different vehicle. Read your manual for specific instructions as to how to install the seat in a vehicle. You’ll also need to check your vehicle’s owner manual. (Yes, really.) Check your index and look for the section on child restraints or LATCH. Some vehicles are very specific on how seats can be installed in certain seating positions. Also, LATCH weight limits are changing. It used to be that you could use the LATCH system until the child was 65 pounds. Now, it’s changing from 65 pounds of child to a combined weight of 65 pounds of child AND seat. (If you’re unsure, ask me! I have a LATCH manual that will tell me exactly what those weight limits are for your vehicle and seat.) Once you reach that weight limit, you HAVE to use a seatbelt to install. After you get the seat in, you’re going to need to tighten it down. You’re looking for less than ONE INCH of movement AT THE BELT PATH. That goes for both LATCH and seatbelt. If you’re doing a RF install, it’s completely acceptable and normal to have movement at the top of the seat. If it’s FF, and there’s one available, use the top tether to keep the seat secure to the back of the vehicle’s seat. Having that tether in use can reduce head movement in a crash as much as FOUR inches. That’s a lot of movement when you’re talking about your child’s neck. If your vehicle doesn’t have top tethers, and you’d like your vehicle to have top tethers, a dealer can usually retrofit them to your car. If you’re interested, I can look up the part number in the aforementioned LATCH manual. You’ll also need to check to make sure the seat is level, and that it’s at the correct angle. There’s an indicator somewhere on the seat (or on the base for RF-only infant seats) that’ll tell you if the seat is level. There are stickers on the side of the seat that’ll show you the correct angle for RF and FF use.
Remember how I said I could spot your misuse from the other end of the aisle at Target? That’s because you’ve got the infant seat perched up on the top of the cart instead of down in the basket part. When you placed the infant seat on top of the seating area, you made that basket top-heavy. Turn the corner too sharp…and baby goes toppling over, seat and all. After you’ve paid and you’re unloading your groceries, the seat can roll away, tip over, hit a bump, etc. making your baby and/or their seat a projectile.
After the child has reached the maximum limits on the harness, then they’re ready to transition over to a high-back booster. This will help that adult sized seat belt we talked about earlier better fit their child sized body. Having a back on the booster will also encourage them to use the belt guide found on that type of seat. It’ll help the shoulder belt stay in the right spot and off their neck, which causes children to want to put the belt under their arm or behind their back. When the time comes, you want to make sure the shoulder belt lies flat against their collarbone, and is between the shoulder joint and the neck. The lap belt should be across the top of their thighs, below their hipbones. If the belt is up above their hipbones, it’s going to be resting on soft belly tissue. If you get in a crash, that belt is not going to stop until it hits something hard, usually the spine. What’s in between the child’s skin and their spine? All kind of vital organs. Let’s keep the belt low so it catches on their hips instead of their spine.
Now, you think you’re ready to ride without a booster? Think again. Not until they’re around 8-10 do they have the size and maturity to ride in an adult sized belt. To keep them as safe as they can be, use the Five-Step Test:
1. Seatbelt is low on the hips and high on the thighs.
2. Shoulder belt crosses the collarbone.
3. Butt is all the way back against the crack of the seat.
4. Knees bend easily over the edge of the seat, and feet rest flat on the floor.
5. The child can maintain an upright and correct posture, making sure the bel
If you can answer YES to all five steps, then congratulations! Your child is ready to be out of a child restraint system. If you answer no to ANY of the questions, then they still need a booster. My oldest child was nearly ten before she passed all five steps, and my middle child is nine and is still in a no-back booster. It makes the belt fit him correctly and keeps him safer in the event of a crash. He passes the five-step test in my husband’s car, but not in my SUV. It varies from one vehicle to another.
Let’s revisit harnesses again.
When it’s cold outside, we bundle up. However, we don’t want to bundle up under the harness. For a simple demonstration as to why, go to YouTube and search for “Winter Coats and Car Seats Don’t Mix” by RanaAurora. She does a beautiful job of demonstrating the hows and whys, and seeing it gives a better understanding than me explaining it.
Please know and understand that when I offer tips and suggestions to correct misuse, it is NOT to make you feel like a failure or a bad parent or that you are just completely inept. I’m sincerely trying to HELP you keep your child as safe as they possible can be while you’re riding around town, or traveling across the country. I realize I've been quite harsh, but I'm sincerely tired of seeing so much misuse. My aim is to educate. We have the tools to keep them safe, let’s use them correctly. What would happen if we used a table saw incorrectly? We might lose a finger. What happens if you use your child’s car seat incorrectly? They could lose their life.
I’m always available to answer any questions you have, or to help you get the seat fitted the right way. There’s no shame in asking when it comes to the ones you’d risk your own life to save. Please let me know if I can help you in any way.