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Imagine how you deal with the awkward situation of having to tell someone you’re talking with that they have food stuck in their teeth.

Maybe you can’t imagine this because you’ve made the decision to never, ever, tell anyone about the spinach bits wedged between their incisors. Or maybe you are someone who doesn’t even squirm at the thought of broaching the subject because you have decided in advance to always, always, bring attention to the issue; swiftly and smoothly:

“Oh look, you have something from your breakfast smoothie stuck in your teeth!”

“Oh.” Wipes teeth with tongue.  “Did I get it?”

“No, not that side, the other side”

“Here?”

“Yep, oh… still there.  Here try some water.”

“Still?”

“Okay, you may just want to run to the bathroom to check it out in the mirror…”

I weigh the pros and cons of both approaches and still can’t decide which is better. If I don’t say anything, and we chat for an hour, then someone more brazen than I joins the conversation and tells them, then they’ll ask me, “Oh, why didn’t you tell me? I feel stupid you let me carry on like that!” Or, I could quickly point it out the second I notice it, participate in the whole teeth-washing fiasco, just to discover it’s ruined our pleasant visit.  

You can imagine how my indecisiveness about manners manifests itself similarly when, as a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, I see carseat misuse by close friends. In the scenario of deciding if I’ll tell my friend that an infant seat base is not supposed to slide off the vehicle seat on every curve, the stakes are a bit higher.

On the one hand, commenting on how a mom chooses, uses, and installs her child’s carseat, risks leaving her feeling ashamed and defensive. But on the other hand, I could ignore the safety issues and feel responsible if, in a collision, the seat doesn’t provide the highest level of protection. Which, gathering from the fact that she spent $200 on a carseat and uses it regularly, she does intend to glean the most safety benefits possible from it! 

She may actually want to know sooner rather than later if something is stuck in her teeth.

My strategy is still a work in progress but, here’s how I am choosing to share my carseat safety knowledge with friends:

  1. Assume parents are doing their very best.
  2. Express admiration for the things they are doing right.
  3. Show solutions to the most pressing safety concerns.
  4. Empathize with the ridiculousness of how complicated it is to keep a child safe on the road.
  5. Offer to help them anytime they have questions or want guidance on a new seat.

So far nothing has blown up in my face; I still have friends. Usually, if I lose friends it’s because they move out of state and if that’s their way of breaking up with me because I offended them with unwanted carseat advice, then they have a very good cover story. And a very accommodating spouse.