A continuation from Part I.
So what does “Rear-Facing As Long As Possible” mean for most parents today?
The answer is going to vary from one parent to the next but it’s important to ask yourself that question! What does rear-facing for as long as possible mean to YOU?
Here at CarseatBlog, we’re parents too and we all have older kids so we’ve been around this RF/FF block a few times. These are a few basic DOs and DON’Ts to help guide you:
1. DO transition to a rear-facing convertible seat once the infant seat is outgrown.
Rear-facing-only seats (aka infant seats or “buckets”) tend to be outgrown by 6-18 months depending on the model you have and the weight/size of your baby. If you start off with a rear-facing-only seat – don’t move your child into a forward-facing seat once the infant seat is outgrown. The next step is a convertible seat installed in the rear-facing position. Different convertible seats have different features and different weight and height limits. Make sure you educate yourself so you don’t wind up with buyers remorse down the road. Our list of Recommended Carseats is a great place to start researching.
Time to move to a rear-facing convertible!
2. DO set goals for rear-facing.
At a minimum, aim to keep your child rear-facing until at least their second birthday. Rear-facing is much safer for children 12-23 months and CarseatBlog fully endorses the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy on extended rear-facing. In some cases, thinking about rear-facing until age 3, 4 or 5 may be too much for a parent with a younger child to commit to – especially if extended rear-facing (ERF) is a foreign concept. Setting an attainable goal, like RF until 24 months, is a great place to start. Once your toddler reaches 24 months you can re-evaluate the situation and adjust your goals if you want to do that.
3. DO educate yourself on “Best Practice” and the protective benefits of rear-facing in a crash.
“Best Practice” is the gold standard of protection (while following the manufacturer instructions). It’s the safest way to transport a child based on their age, weight, height and developmental levels. Ideally, kids should remain rear-facing until they reach either the maximum weight limit or the maximum height limit of their convertible seat (whichever happens first). Many of the convertible carseats on the market today will accommodate kids rear-facing beyond 24 months but there are always exceptions for the biggest toddlers and/or smaller carseats with lower weight and/or height limits. Be aware that there is a good chance that whatever convertible seat you purchase will actually allow forward-facing after 1 year old as long as the FF weight minimum (usually 20 or 22 lbs.) is met but forward-facing before age 2 is NOT recommended if you can avoid it. See Why Rear-Facing is Better: Your RF Link Guide
4. DON’T pick a carseat based solely on rear-facing weight and height limits. Do your research!
The BEST carseat is the one that fits your vehicle (installs tightly), fits your child (is appropriate for their age/weight/height), and that you can use correctly on every single ride. And of course it needs to fit your wallet too. The best carseat is not necessarily the most expensive carseat you can (or can’t) afford. And it’s not necessarily the carseat with the highest weight and/or height limits on the market. Remember – what works best for *your* child in *your* vehicle might not be the best choice for your sister or your neighbor or your online friend, and that’s important. For example, a carseat that doesn’t install tightly in your vehicle or one where you can’t easily adjust the harness to be snug on your child is not safe. A convertible carseat that can accommodate your child rear-facing until age 5 but doesn’t fit rear-facing in your car is not going to be the best choice for you either.
So what does “Rear-Facing As Long As Possible” mean for advocates and certified child passenger safety technicians?
In the technician certification course, we learn that rear-facing carseats protect the vulnerable head, neck and spine in a frontal crash by distributing the forces of the crash across the entire head and body. “It is the shell of the rear-facing carseat that absorbs the forces of the crash.” We factually present this information to parents the way it was presented to us. By doing so, it informs and empowers the parent to make educated decisions for their children. The more accurate information they have about the research and available products, the better able they are to make an educated choice. Some carseats, like the Graco Size4Me 65, offer exceptional rear-facing height limits at around $150. The Chicco NextFit has a great balance of rear-facing height and weight limits and works well in small spaces, too. We recently posted a list of a few other super extended rear-facing models that have exceptional weight or height limits.
Weight and height limits are not the only important boundaries for techs. For example, to suggest that it is bad parenting or even dangerous to turn a child forward-facing when allowed by the owner’s manual usually crosses one such line. We also shouldn’t be telling parents to buy ONLY carseats with exceptionally high rear-facing limits. Many can’t afford some of these options, so we need to be sensitive to a parent’s preferences, intentions and budget. For example, telling them they have to buy an expensive new rear-facing carseat for a child that is already 2 or 3 years of age may not be appropriate, especially if it is out of their budget or difficult for them to install or use correctly.
Technicians and advocates do need to be aware of best practice to encourage parents to keep their kids as safe as possible. Equally important is to synthesize all the information and then convey it to caregivers in a manner that is both welcomed and understandable. It’s not only WHAT you teach a parent, but HOW you teach them that is critical to having them keep their child as safe as possible. Promoting Extended Rear-Facing is very admirable, but crossing the line to overzealous or antagonistic messages will only cause parents to dismiss our advice altogether, and that is contrary to all the advocacy work we have done in the last 10+ years!
Ten Years Ago: Rear-Facing at 3.5 years old in a Britax Wizard
Finally, we also recognize that smaller convertible carseats may still be a very good choice for many kids. A prime example? The Cosco Scenera. The $39 price tag at Walmart makes it accessible to millions of families and it has been a safe and highly regarded carseat for over a decade. There’s also the Britax Roundabout G4 at $144 that tends to be easier to install and use than average and fits well in smaller vehicles, too. The Evenflo SureRide is another budget-friendly model for around $99 that offers good rear-facing height and weight limits. All three were recently rated as “Best Buys” by a leading consumer magazine.
In addition to our Recommended Rear-Facing Carseats, be sure to see our Rear-Facing Link Guide and our commentary on Rear-Facing Until 2 Years Old.
Additionally, our Rear-Facing Convertible Space Comparison blog and our list of Rear-Facing Convertible Measurements, Height & Weight Limits can be very helpful resources if you are in the market for a new convertible.