Tag Archives: car seat

Booster Seats for Travel

On a recent field trip day at my son’s school, I was watching kindergarten to second graders try to lug around their booster seats and car seats, and watching volunteer parents try to figure out how to strap the car seats into their cars. (I personally just volunteered to drive, because it was easier than unfastening and refastening my son’s car seat!) Then, one child came up holding this little thing the size of a clutch purse, telling me it was her car seat. (Image from Amazon)

I talked with the mother a little, but was having a hard time seeing how this could possibly be safe – so I did my research. (Meaning – I contacted a friend who is a CPST carseat technician and asked her! She gave me some great articles to read.)

The seat was a mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat. It’s advertised as being

  • More than 10x smaller than a regular booster seat and just as safe
  • The most advanced, compact, and portable booster seat ever invented designed for kids aged 4 and up, 40 to 100 lbs, and 40 to 57 inches tall

It’s available for around $40.

At first glance I didn’t understand how it worked… I thought the purpose of a booster seat was to get the child up high enough that the shoulder belt goes across their chest, not across their neck. This seat is 3/4 of an inch thick, so how does it work?

Instead of thinking of the mifold as a booster seat, think of it as a belt-positioner. Instead of lifting the child up, it pulls the seatbelt down. The belt guides on the seat ensure that the lap belt goes low across the child’s hips (not their belly – on top of all their internal organs, and not on the thighs where they could slip forward in case of an accident.) The strap pulls the shoulder belt down lower, so it will go across the child’s shoulder and chest, not their neck.

To transport, it folds up very small, with the strap wrapped around it. To install it, you unfold it, press a button to open the seat belt guides up wider (there are three possible widths to adjust to your child’s size). Use the setting that is closest to your child’s thighs without touching their thighs. Once child is seated on the mifold, you take the lap belt through the belt guides on the seat, then use the strap to clip the shoulder belt down at the right height. (Watch the videos on Amazon or in the reviews.)

Check for proper belt fit: the lap belt must fit snugly, low across the hip bones, just touching the top of the things. The shoulder belt should be across the center of the shoulder.

It appears that the mifold works very well with many children in many vehicles. However, in some vehicles, it just can’t position the belts correctly, which means it would not be safe in a crash.

Here are detailed reviews of the mifold, from Car Seat Blog and Car Seats for the Littles. Here is a video review. Here’s another video review. (Note: the video reviewers do not appear to be car seat experts.) Here are the ease of use ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Safety note: the IIHS, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, will not rate the mifold because, instead of raising the child up, “the device pulls the belt down to the child. There aren’t any data about how this new type of device works with real kids in real crashes. For these reasons, the Mifold isn’t comparable to the boosters that IIHS evaluates and isn’t included in the ratings.”

The consensus of the reviews cited above, and user reviews on Amazon:

Pros: Incredibly portable! Great for travel, taxis, and so on. Affordable. Older children are not embarrassed to use it, as they may be with another booster when their friends have outgrown theirs.

Cons: Won’t fit all kids in all cars. Can slip around on seat or fold up a bit, which can make it hard to get into. Younger children won’t likely be able to buckle and unbuckle themselves as this is a bit tricky.

My personal choice, as a mom – not as an expert in the field – is that the next time I go on a solo trip with my son, I’ll get a mifold. As a handicapped mom (I have one leg), being able to tuck his carseat into a suitcase instead of having to schlep a separate seat around airports is a huge advantage to me. But for this week’s trip when my husband will be with me, we’ll just stick to our traditional backless booster. We’ve got two 2-hour drives and two 4-hr drives so want to ensure he’s comfortable and up high enough to see out the window of our unknown rental vehicle.

For our everyday use, my son is still in a 5 point harness seat in my car and my husband’s car, or in a traditional booster for the once a week ride with grandpa or school field trips where I won’t be around to help ensure it fits properly in another parent’s car.  I want him to be as safe as possible, so I always keep him at each level of car seat as long as I can. (My son is 8, but he’s just 50 inches and 52 pounds, so he’s got a long ways to go before he maxes out the height and weight limits on seats.)

But if a highly portable carseat is a necessity for you, this may be a good option.

The mifiold is available at Amazon, Target and elsewhere.

Alternatives:

Some alternative small portable booster seats to consider for travel, carpooling, field trips, after school playdates, visits with grandparents, taxi or bus rides:

BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seat, Black. Here’s a review of the BubbleBum. This is an inflatable booster seat! So, it weighs one pound and squashes up small in the suitcase. $27

Ride Safer Delight Travel Vest, Small Yellow – Includes Tether and Neck Pillow cost around $150. This is a vest that you buckle child into, then buckle it into the car. Comes with a bag so kids can carry their own seat easily. Helpful when there’s not enough space in the back seat to fit three car seats in a row. Putting one child in this travel vest can solve that problem.

Or, if you just want a fairly small and portable traditional booster seat:  Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong Backless Booster. Here’s the carseatblog’s review of the TurboBooster. $33.

Note: I am NOT a Child Passenger Safety Technician. I am not an expert in this field, so please do your own research with reputable experts to make the safety decisions that are best for your child.

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Car Seats – Don’t Hurry to the Next Stage

Motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of child death in the United States. Proper use of the proper car seat can hugely reduce the risks. There are four stages of car safety restraints. To maximize safety, keep your child in each level of seat as long as possible, until they reach the maximum height and weight for that seat. Each stage provides less protection. Don’t move your child to the next stage until you have to. This is NOT one of the places where we want to rush our kids along to the next developmental milestone!

Note: To choose the right level seat for your child, it is more important to consider their height and weight than their age. (So, if your child is small for their age, they may be in a seat longer than age recommendations say.)

Rear-Facing. (Birth to age 2 or beyond)rear-facing car seat
Infant Seat. Weight from 4 pounds to 22 – 35 pounds and height up to 29 – 32 inches, depending on the seat. Convertible Seat. Weight from 5 or 20 pounds minimum to 45 pounds maximum rear-facing, maximum height 40 inches.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says “All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.” Riding rear-facing helps to protect a child’s fragile neck and spinal cord, and reduces the risk of severe injury by 75%.

Many parents notice that as their toddler grows, there is less room for their legs, and they have to bend their legs or sit cross-legged in order to fit. They wonder if they should turn the child forward. As a car seat technician told me: “yes, there’s a minor risk of broken legs in an accident. But, broken legs are much easier to heal from then a broken neck, which is more likely if they’re forward facing.”

forward-facing car seatForward-Facing Car Seat with a 5-point Harness. (Age 2 to 7)
Should never be used for a child less than 20 pounds or less than one year old.
Maximum weight 35 – 70 pounds. Max height up to 50 inches.

These seats are equipped with a 5 point harness. In a crash, that harness keeps the child in the seat and helps distribute the force of the crash to the strongest parts of the child’s body. Use for as long as possible, as they provide more support and protection than a booster seat. Your child is ready for a booster when he reaches the top weight and height allowed for his car seat (shoulders are above the top harness slots and his ears have reached the top of the seat.)

You may find as your child gets older that they are riding in other people’s cars more often (for field trips, playdates, and so on). Make sure the person who is transporting your child knows how to install the seat or booster properly.  Some parents choose to use an easy-to-install booster for these occasional trips once their child hits the minimum size, while continuing to use a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness in their own car for the majority of car rides.

boostBooster Seat. (Age 4 – 8 or beyond)
Up to 100 – 120 pounds. Maximum heights from 34 – 63”.

Washington requires that children use a safety seat until they’re at least 8 years old or taller than 4’9” (57”) whichever comes first. (Note: Less than 5% of kids are taller than 4’9” at 8 years old. 25% don’t reach 4’9” until they are almost 12 years old.)

Boosters properly position the adult lap and shoulder belt for a child, so it provides proper restraint in case of an accident.

Your car must have a lap and shoulder belt to use a booster. If your car only has lap belts, you can use a forward-facing car seat with a harness or see if shoulder belts can be installed in your car. There are backless booster seats, which are generally less expensive and easier to carry. There are high-back boosters, which should be used in cars without head rests or with low seat backs.

Seat Belt. (Age 8 or older)
If your child is 8 – 12 years old or at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, AND you can answer yes to these questions, then they’re ready to move out of a booster seat.

  • When the child is sitting all the way back against the vehicle seat, do the child’s knees Seat beltbend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
  • Does the lap belt stay on the top of the child’s thighs, not on their belly?
  • Is the shoulder belt centered on the child’s chest and shoulder (and not on the neck or throat)?

Can the child stay seated this way for the whole trip? Without putting the shoulder part of their seat belt under their arm or behind their back?

Front Seat. By Washington law, all children should ride in the back seat until age 13.
(Exceptions for: pickup trucks or sports cars with no back seat, or if the back seat is filled with younger children)

Air bags are very dangerous to children riding in rear-facing car seats. If your vehicle has a front passenger air bag, infants in rear-facing seats must ride in the back. If a young child must ride in the front seat of the car, check your vehicle owner’s manual to learn how to turn off the air bag.

Choosing a Car Seat: Choose a car seat that is easy for you to use, so that you will use it right every time. NHTSA offers ease of use ratings for all the car seats on the market: http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa_eou/

If your child is likely to be tall or heavy for their age, choose a seat with higher maximum weight and height to allow your child to use that car seat as long as possible.

Install the Car Seat Properly. For a car seat to work correctly, it must be installed correctly. Check the web resources below for information on car seat installation, and read your car seat manual and your vehicle manual for tips. Once you’ve installed a seat, you can have it checked for free. See www.800bucklup.org/carseat/inspections.asp for a list of inspectors.

Clothing. If a child is dressed in bulky clothing, the car seat may not properly restrain them in case of a crash. In the winter time, buckle your child into the seat without a coat on, and then place the coat or a blanket over the harness for warmth.

Other Objects. In case of an accident, loose objects in the car can fly around and strike passengers, and if your child is holding a hard object, it could hit them, causing injury. Keep this in mind as you do your best to keep your car tidy and consider what your child has access to in the car.

Be a Good Role Model. Always buckle up yourself. Always encourage all the other adults in the car to buckle up. Practice safe driving practices with minimal distractions. Your children will be driving themselves in just a few years, and they will have learned a lot about driving by watching you from the back seat. Make sure you are showing the behavior you want them to learn.

I think of motor vehicle safety as what I call a “red light” issue. When I teach safety skills to children, or talk to parents about safety skills, I think about “green light” situations with no risk of harm, “yellow lights” where we just let them know to be careful, “orange lights” where we only allow them to do something with very close adult supervision, and “red lights” which are absolute rules, set by the parents, and followed all the time in order to keep the child safe. Riding in the proper seat, properly buckled is mandatory. (To learn more about my thoughts on teaching safety skills, click here. And to learn about letting a child take reasonable risks as a learning experience, click here.)

More info: www.800bucklup.org; www.safercar.gov/parents; www.healthychildren.org

In this post, I reference Washington State laws. To learn the laws in your state, visit: http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/childsafety_laws.html

For a printable handout of this information, click here.

Illustrations from healthychildren.org

Teaching Safety Skills to Toddlers

In the early years of parenting, it’s completely the parents’ responsibility to keep the baby safe. But by the time our children  leave the nest at 18 or so, we hope that they are fully capable of making wise decisions to keep themselves safe without our help or advice. How do we get them to that point? We start when they are toddlers, by teaching them to assess their situation for safety vs. risk, and by teaching skills that reduce their risk of harm.

When teaching safety, think “prepare, don’t scare.” Scaring your child by over-protecting, hovering, or gasping with fear whenever they move can create a fearful child who is unwilling to explore. Preparing your child by teaching them how to explore their environment wisely and with caution when warranted is very empowering.

The Language (and Body Language) of Safety: Interpreting Situations for your Child

When our children are little, they have no experience with what is safe and what is not. They rely on us to help them learn. Babies begin “social referencing” at 8 – 12 months. When they encounter something new, they look at their parents for information. If you’re smiling, and verbally encouraging them, they move toward it. If you look worried, they may move away or move more cautiously.

You can help them to interpret the safety or risk potential in a situation by your responses when they do their check-in. It may help you to think about a few different levels of risk potential:

  • Green = it’s totally safe, I have no worries. When your child looks to you for input: put on a big smile, nod, and verbally encourage exploration.
  • Yellow = minor risk of harm to child (or property), but easy to avoid harm if they exercise a little extra caution. Look positive but thoughtful, lean forward to show you’re paying extra attention, say with a quiet voice “just be careful” or “gentle touch” or “it’s fragile, hold it carefully” or “watch your feet” – something that tells them how to be sure they’re safe.
  • Orange = risk of harm to child, and they must actively work to avoid it. Look concerned (not scared) and attentive. Stand up and move closer. Use a strong voice to tell them what the risk is and what they need to do. Emphasize the important words. “The oven is hot. Move over there” or “that would be a big fall –go that way, back to the slide” or “I don’t want you to slip and fall. Use walking feet at the pool” or “it’s not safe to run in a parking lot – hold my hand.”
  • Red = imminent risk of harm, child must immediately stop, or you must intervene. (Save this for when you really mean it, so they take it seriously.) Look intensely alert, and either scared or angry (whatever gets their attention). Move toward them. Use your strongest, most urgent voice, and as few words as possible to tell them what to do. “Stop!” “Danger!” “Back up!” “Don’t touch – hands up!” After they’re out of harm’s way, then explain the situation.

Teaching Safe Behaviors

The most common causes of childhood injuries are falls, animal bites, drowning, poisoning, burns and motor vehicle accidents. It’s important for parents to safety-proof, but we also need to teach our kids how to be careful about these risks. For example, if a parent always gated the stairs and never let his child use them, think what could happen the first time she encountered un-gated stairs…

Preventing falls / Moving safely:

  • Practice safe movement on low climbers and short stairs to practice skills for higher places.
  • Use safety language to let them know when they’re moving into dangerous territory.
  • Model how to move carefully, demo how to pay close attention to hand-holds, foot holds, being cautious around heights, etc. Teach that sometimes it’s safest to sit down and scoot.
  • Encourage them to trust their instincts: “You’re looking worried. That is really high, isn’t it? I think you’ll be OK if you’re careful. If you want, I can help you do it, or I can get you down.”

Preventing bites / Interacting with animals:

  • Teach your child to always ask the pet’s owner before touching it. (No touching wild animals.)
  • Teach gentle touch – say the words, model the behavior, hold your child’s hand to guide.
  • Teach that animals’ food dishes are always off-limits. And so are cat litter boxes!

Preventing drowning / Staying safe around water:

  • Enroll your child in swim lessons by age 3 – 5.
  • Teach your child to move slowly and carefully around water – getting in and out of the bath tub, walking around the pool, etc. Point out that wet ground is slippery, and these places are full of hard surfaces that hurt to fall on, and that falling into water is very dangerous.
  • If your child plays in a tub or pool with other children, set strict limits on horseplay (i.e. no pushing anyone’s head under the water!)

Preventing poisoning:

  • Get Mr. Yuk stickers from Poison Control. Have your child watch you put them on substances and teach your child what they mean. (Note: dangerous substances should be kept out of child’s sight and reach. Mr. Yuk stickers are your back-up plan, in case something accidentally gets left out.)
  • Teach your child to always ask you before eating anything.

Preventing burns:

  • Teach them what smoke smells like and that they should always let you know if they smell it.
  • Teach the word “hot” and model that they should move away from things you call hot.
  • Teach “hands up” and model how to keep their hands away from something dangerous.

Motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian safety

  • In the car, they need to know car seat use (and seat belt use someday) is non-negotiable. They must ALWAYS ride buckled in. No exceptions! Even when just moving the car a few feet.
  • If you are waiting in the car for something, keep your child buckled in. You can move to sit next to them to read a book or play while you wait, but don’t let them play in the car.
  • When riding a bicycle or other wheeled vehicle, make the bike helmet mandatory. Model the importance of this by always wearing a helmet yourself.
  • In parking lots, teach that we never play near cars, and we always hold hands.
  • When crossing roads, teach to look both ways, listen for cars, then cross.
  • Play “red light, green light” game or freeze tag so they can practice stopping quickly when you say so.

All-purpose safety tip: instead of just saying no, or telling your child what not to do, find ways to tell them what to do.

No Substitute for Adult Supervision!

Although this post is all about teaching safety skills, it’s essential to remember that young children can’t be responsible for keeping themselves safe! There is so much about the world that they don’t know that they can get themselves into danger without realizing it. And even if they do realize there’s a risk, that knowledge won’t always prevent them from doing it – they don’t have the impulse control to resist their urge to try something new. Children rely on careful adult supervision to keep them safe.

Injuries are most likely when:

  • the child or the caregiver is tired, hungry, sick or stressed
  • family routines have changed (on vacation, after a move, new babysitter / caregiver)
  • the child learns new physical skills which enable them to do new (and risky) things

Thus, parents should pay extra attention under these circumstances.

For more info on injury prevention and treatment, look here.

Great article about more ways to teach safety skills is here: http://life.familyeducation.com/safety/toddler/53828.html