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Top 5 Pro Tips for Keeping Kids Safe in Cars

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I want to begin by saying that I am certain you are doing your very best to keep your babies and children safe in the car. It’s not your fault that carseats are so confusing. I commend you for coming to CarseatBlog for reliable and accurate child passenger safety information. You’re way ahead of the class already!

Below are 5 Pro Tips that all parents and caregivers should know:

1. Rear-face as long as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers remain rear-facing until at least 2 years old or until they have outgrown their carseat in the rear-facing position. Carseats can be outgrown by weight or height but it is more common for children to outgrow seats by height so that’s something to keep your eye on. Most babies will outgrow a typical infant seat (aka, rear-facing only seat) by height at around 12 months although some will outgrow it before then and some will still fit well past their first birthday.  Whenever you are ready to move your baby to a bigger carseat (you don’t have to wait until it’s outgrown to switch), buy a convertible carseat and install it in the rear-facing position. With frontal crash forces spread out over the entire back of a rear-facing seat, this position does a great job protecting the vulnerable head, neck, and spine. I always joke with parents that I wish I could ride rear facing!

2. Check the angle of the rear-facing carseat.  Understand if, and how, your child’s carseat reclines by reading the instruction manual. Seats that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing (convertible carseats) usually have specific mechanisms that change the angle of the seat depending on intended use. Make sure you have the carseat configured properly for the direction in which you are installing it. Most rear-facing seats have some type of recline angle indicator. It could be a liquid bubble level, or a window that shows different colors or just a line on the side of the shell. Additionally, some rear-facing seats have 2 recline levels; one for newborns with no head/neck control and one for older babies who prefer to sit more upright and have good head/neck control. Even some forward-facing seats have the ability to recline to different angles depending on weight limits but make sure you understand what is and isn’t allowed.

3. Install with LATCH or seatbelt but not both. All carseats must be attached to the vehicle using either a seatbelt or LATCH connectors but pick one system and don’t double up unless the instruction manual specifically allows that option. Using both LATCH and seatbelt together doesn’t make the installation safer, if it did the instructions would tell you to do that! The carseat should be secured tightly so that when attempting to move the seat or base (with one hand grabbing near the beltpath), it does not move more than 1 inch from side to side or front to back. The most common causes of a wiggly carseat are that 1) parents haven’t mastered the finesse of tightening belts or 2) they don’t understand the locking mechanism for their vehicle’s seatbelt. To learn how the seatbelts in your vehicle lock for the purposes of installing a car seat, look up “Child Restraint” in the index of your vehicle’s owners manual. The most common locking mechanism is the “switchable retractor” which requires you to pull the shoulder belt portion of the seatbelt all the way to the end to engage the locking mechanism. Once your seatbelt has been switched to locking mode, you will usually hear a ratcheting sound as you feed the slack back into the retractor. Every click you hear is cinching the seatbelt tighter. If you have a vehicle older than 1996 you may need to use a locking clip, which you can learn about HERE.

4. Use the harness straps correctly. The 5-point harness of a carseat is not like the straps of a highchair or baby swing, which are designed to keep your child from falling out. A carseat’s harness straps are designed to restrain a child’s small body under severe crash forces. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the purpose and mechanics of the harness straps. Clearly, I could write a whole post about this, but for now here are the important guidelines:

  • When the buckle is secured and the chest clip is fastened at armpit level, the straps should be snug. You should not be able to pinch any harness webbing at the collar bone.
  • Harness straps should lie flat and not be twisted; they lose strength and efficacy when twisted.
  • When rear-facing, harness straps should come from the slots or position that are at or slightly below the child’s shoulders.
  • When forward facing, harness straps should come from the slots or position at or slightly above their shoulders.

5. Don’t be in such a hurry to jump off the carseat train. The booster bus is not any easier after the first 2 rides and the novelty has worn off.  Younger kids start squirming around, forget to thread the seatbelt under the armrests and through the top belt guide, etc… In my experience, it is much easier to implement best practices with children in a 5-point harness than it is to do so with a booster. And proper usage is really what makes a child restraint so safe. When it comes to school-age kids (6+), there are debates on the safety benefits of a 5-point harness vs. a booster, but for younger kids the recommendations are clear. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a very reasonable recommendation: use a forward-facing carseat with a 5-point harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height limit allowed by the carseat manufacturer.

With all that out of the way, now we can laugh together about how insanely complicated using carseats can be. I hear you!!! The Child Passenger Safety Technician Certification Course I attended alongside a dozen students was taught in a hotel conference room for 8 hours every day for a week! We read, discussed, watched powerpoint presentations, and practiced on trainers’ cars out in the hot parking lot. After we took written and practical tests on Friday, we were thrust into the community on Saturday to check carseats. I thought after that week I would know everything. But 11 years and 5 kids later, I’m still learning!

Top 5 Tips for Sharing Carseat Tips with Friends

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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.

Graco Tranzitions Combination Seat Review

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2017 Graco Tranzitions Combination Carseat Review

My son, like most four year olds, had a few specific items he wished for Christmas this past year.  But unlike most four-year olds, he was pleased with his gift of a new 3-in-1 combination carseat, the Graco Tranzitions (the Tranzitions is also sold at Wal-Mart as the Wayz)!
Carseats are not a regular gift given in our home, but it seemed appropriate this year for a few reasons. For one, his convertible car seat was going to be passed down to his little sister. Secondly, he needed a very narrow seat when a new baby brother boots him to the 3rd row between his two older booster-using brothers. And so, on Christmas morning, my four year was correct when he guessed that the oddly wrapped, chair-shaped package with his name on it was, in fact, a new car seat! Luckily, upon opening this unconventional and totally practical gift, the sleek all-black design, TWO cupholders and extra padding did not disappoint him!

Tranzitions Weight & Height Limits:

  • Forward-facing with 5-pt harness: 22-65 lbs.
  • Highback Booster: 30-100 lbs.
  • Backless Booster: 40-100 lbs.

Features:

  • No-rethread harness with 8 height positions
  • Dual cup holders (outer plastic portion can be dismantled if space is more important than a functioning cupholder)
  • Machine washable cover
  • Optional body cushion and harness covers
  • Open loop shoulder belt guide for high-back booster mode
  • Lifespan is 7 years from date of manufacture

Tranzitions Frills  Tranzitions Proof