Written by Child Passenger Safety Technician, Emily Amps
It’s that time of year – the school year has come to an end and graduation season is in full force. Whether a child is finishing kindergarten or headed to college, graduation is something we celebrate. But when it comes to car seat use, for many, “graduating” to the next child safety system often comes far too soon.
Rear Face As Long As Possible
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children remain in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible – until they reach the maximum rear-facing limits of a convertible car seat. For many children, depending on their height and weight (and how they grow – long legs versus long torsos), they can remain rear facing until they reach kindergarten, if not longer.
At minimum, children should remain rear-facing until at least age two, in order for their spines to mature and be better capable of sustaining the force of a collision. If you’re like me and need a visual aid to help understand what this means, the folks at the Ohio State University made this great video that I love to share: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuZFVPv3Rpk.
Don’t worry about squished legs, kids are incredibly pliable, (who hasn’t seen their kid put their feet behind their head?), and will cross their legs if needed. In fact, for most kiddos, it’s actually more comfortable to sit rear-facing than to have their legs dangling in a forward facing seat.
From Harness to Booster
After rear-facing, the next stage is forward facing using a 5-point harness. Much like rear-facing, many state laws and even manufacturer guidelines don’t always mirror best practices when it comes to moving from a 5-point harness to a booster that uses a vehicle’s seat belt.
I’ve lost track of how many texts, emails or calls I’ve received from friends that go something like this: “[Child’s name] wants to switch to a booster because their friend uses a booster.” My usual response, “[Child’s name] is not five years old, so that’s an automatic no go. They aren’t mature enough to sit up in the same position for an entire ride.”
Yep, age five is the minimum best practice for boosters, but in reality, most kiddos need even more time to reach the maturity level to stay put and/or for the belt to hit them in the right spots.
For some great guidance on when you can make the switch, read this.
But please, not too early! Texas state law requires use of a child safety system (read: a car seat or seat-belt guide booster) until the age eight. This, of course, doesn’t mirror best practices or AAP recommendations. In fact, most children don’t reach seat belt-only status until much later than eight. For most, it’s closer to 11 or 12. I know my 10-year-old son is at least a couple years away. He’s short, just like his mom.
Why so long? For the same reasons it’s important to wait to move a child to a booster – size and maturity. To be more specific, a child should use a booster until they reach at least 4’9” and pass the 5-step test:
- Sits all the way back against the vehicle seat
- Knees bent at the edge of the vehicle seat and feet on the floor
- Shoulder belt fits evenly across the collarbone and sits flush with the torso
- Lap belt is low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs
- Can stay comfortably seated this way the entire ride
I know there’s a lot to unpack here. Child restraints can be complicated and confusing. Fortunately, there are thousands of certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs), like me, whose job it is to support caregivers. We’re here to help. So, if you have questions or would like me to take a look at your car seat installation, email me at [email protected].