Parenting Archive

You Asked: When is the right time to move to a booster?

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A few weeks ago, I wanted to write something but no matter how long I stared at my computer, I couldn’t come up with anything interesting to write about. After an embarrassing amount of time, I took to my social media channels and asked my friends what their top car seat question was. I found a lot of commonalities among the things people offered up because there are definitely some areas of car seating that are more difficult than others, but there was a wide variety of things people want to know more about. And after looking through the responses and sitting on it for a bit, I’m going to use those suggestions (and new ones that come along), to launch a new series of articles.

I decided my first “You Asked” post would be whichever topic came up the most from my friends, and the result ended up being one of the questions I get most often in person from friends and family, so it feels right to start here.

You Asked: When is it time to switch to a booster?

I think boosters are confusing because all the seats you’ve used up to this point have been sort of similar. They all install in a relatively similar pattern, the way you secure your child is consistent, but then you get to boosters and they don’t install the same way and they don’t work the same way and it’s just hard to know if you’re doing it right. As a parent who is starting to booster-train for the first time, I feel this confusion first hand.

So let’s start with a little terminology. A booster, or belt-positioning booster, is a car seat that does NOT use a built-in harness, but instead uses the vehicle seat belt to restrain the child. There are products that refer to themselves as a “Harnessed Booster” or “Harness-to-Booster” and we call those types of seats “combination seats” because they combine a forward-facing seat that has a 5-point harness with a booster seat. Those are 2 completely different modes of use. If you are using a combination seat with the 5-point harness for your preschool-age child, that’s perfectly fine. Technically, it’s not a booster (even if that’s what the product name implies) unless you are using it in booster mode without the harness.

Most booster seats (or combination seats used in booster mode) have either a 30 or 40-pound weight minimum, a height minimum and an age minimum of 3 to 4 years, generally speaking. Unlike a harnessed seat, which restrains the child with a built-in 5-point harness, the booster is used to literally boost the child up so that the adult seat belt fits properly on the strongest parts of their body – the pelvic bones and collar bone. A good belt fit means the shoulder belt lays flat across the middle of the collar bone and the lap belt lays across the thighs and off the belly.

Now, I realize I just said that 3-year-olds can use boosters, but I want to stop here and clarify something. While some boosters do not list a specific age minimum, and others list age 3 or 4 as the minimum, it is my opinion that dedicated booster seats are not appropriate for 3-year-old children. I am currently raising my second 3-year-old and I’ve spent a pretty extensive amount of time around 3-year-olds and let me let you in on a secret: they are not known for excellent decision making. They just aren’t. My first child was probably one of the most compliant and calm 3-year-olds and even he lacked the frontal lobe development to make the kind of choices that a booster requires a child to make. Putting your 3-year-old in a booster might be legal in some states and with certain products, but it’s not a great idea unless you don’t have any other options.

I put my current 3-year-old child in a booster for less than 2 minutes to take a picture of him and I told him to sit still. This is a progression of what took place in those 2 minutes and it perfectly illustrates the issue:

   

Here’s the thing: boosters require maturity in a way that a 5-point harness doesn’t. A 5-point harness holds your child in the safest position without any effort on your child’s part. In a 5-point harness, your child can fall asleep, can reach for something next to them, can do any number of attempted gymnastics and assuming you have installed the seat well and buckled them correctly, they will still be just as safe. A booster, on the other hand, allows the child a lot of freedom of movement. It allows slouching, it allows toppling over when asleep, it allows them to tuck the shoulder belt behind them and it allows them to lean forward to pick toys off the floor, all the things my 3-year-old did in a matter of 2 minutes. But unlike in a harness, all of these scenarios in a booster are seriously dangerous. A booster only works to keep your child safe in a crash when the seatbelt is positioned properly on the child. So, if you can’t trust your child to sit upright for an entire car ride, even when asleep, they shouldn’t be in a booster. Period.

You can safely keep your child in a 5-point harness until they outgrow it by height or by weight, so there’s not a rush, no matter what anyone else is telling you. There’s no evidence (trust me, I’ve looked for it), that keeping a 6 or 7-year-old in a harness (if they still fit) is more dangerous than using a booster. We do know that allowing a young child who lacks impulse control to move to a booster too soon can absolutely be extremely dangerous.

So, you asked when you should you move your child to a booster and the simplest answer is:

In order to ride in a booster, a child must meet the height, weight AND age minimums of their seat AND they must be able to sit upright through an entire car ride with a good belt fit. Provided that your child is still within the height and weight limits of their harnessed seat, keeping a child in a 5-point harness beyond age 4 or 5 is fine and many parents choose to do that. If your child does not have the impulse control to sit safely in a booster seat but they’ve outgrown all the harnessed seat options, there are medical car seats that will allow your child to remain seated safely for longer (see your physician, medical therapists or a CPST near you for more information).

  

Some other information on boosters can be found here:

IIHS Booster Seat Ratings Bonanza: Where does your booster seat rank?

CarseatBlog recommended high back booster seats

CarseatBlog recommended combination seats

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.

Excuse the mess, we are boosting our immune system

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There are a lot of things that make me feel like I’m failing at life and parenting on a daily basis. Liam had hand, foot, and mouth disease and I let him play at the playground for two days straight (and sent him to school!!) because he felt fine and I thought he had just bit the inside of his mouth. If I could send gift baskets to the families of every kid we probably passed it on to, I would. I felt so terrible once he got a few spots on his feet and I realized what was going on. To be fair, his case was so mild he only had a few spots, but I should definitely have known better and considered something beyond him biting his cheek.

Declan was crying at bedtime last year and doing his usual routine of trying every excuse in the book to get more cuddle time. Some of his favorites are his stomach hurting, or his leg hurting, or some other obscure thing that was fine 3 minutes before the lights went out. One time he cried about his arm. I proceeded to tell him he was fine, and to stay in bed and I’d see him in the morning. He came out a few more times, which wasn’t unusual, complaining about his arm. I’d kiss it and put him back to bed. When he didn’t relent after an unusual amount of time, I actually looked at his arm. Yep, nursemaid elbow. Mom of the year. Popped it back and he went to bed without a problem.

I work. Not full time anymore, I actually work weekends (which usually ends up equaling about 30 hours anyway) so I’m not gone all the time. Yet I feel like I still can’t put 100% to either my kids or my job. That I have to choose, and right now I can’t.

Obviously I don’t need assistance in feeling like I’m slacking. Today the cleanliness gods looked down on me and gave me the middle finger when I realized how trashed my house is after a weekend of guests and basically doing things other than cleaning up. I picked up all the clutter but I still feel the crunch of sand/dirt/crackers under my feet. So great, now my kids are growing up in a hovel in addition to being medically neglected vectors.

But guess what? I’m in luck, along with all of you who are also rocking smashed goldfish under the kitchen table from last week. Who have endless amounts of dirt tracked in the house. Who found a stick in the washer and a dried up worm in the dryer. Who have a cat whose rear end has probably graced every surface in the house. You know why? Because studies have shown that kids who are exposed to dirt, animals, and all the things the Earth has to offer are, in general, healthier and happier. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported that an early exposure to a wide range of bacteria and allergens could help protect kids by shaping their immune response. Scientists at Johns Hopkins stated that children who grow up on farms have lower incidences of asthma and allergies, and children who grow up in the inner city being exposed to more mouse/roach droppings and environmental pollutants tend to have higher rates. However, the article I was reading also stated something interesting. It said that of these inner city children, those who were exposed to those things before their first birthdays had lower levels of asthma and allergies, suggesting the theory of early exposure helping protect children’s immune response in the long run no matter where they live.

Another study done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggests that early exposure to bacteria in children helps regulate immune cells and decreases incidences of autoimmune disorders. So what does that translate for the average person? It’s healthier for your baby or child to grow up in a house that’s lived in, and not sterile. Obviously there’s a difference between lived in and a biohazard, but bleaching your house on the regular is more harmful than anything.

Yes, we hug our chickens but as pro-dirt as I am, please always wash your hands after handling fowl. Chickens and cats rate right up there with my kids in the disease carrying department.

So drop that hand sanitizer, quit with the routine bleaching, quit scrubbing your floors on your hands and knees, and leave the baseboards alone. Let your kids eat their snacks at the park with sandy hands. Let them roll in the dirt and chase bugs with the dogs. It’s good for them. Now excuse me while I further neglect my floors and go outside to drink ice coffee and watch the kids play.

I do still wish my cat would wear pants though.

 

Ok so she’s actually my parents dog and doesn’t live with us for optimal immune enhancing hound dog exposure but she needed a cameo because she’s freaking awesome. Also she doesn’t put her nether regions on my pillow.

Confessions of a (Former) Extended Rear Facing Snob

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I initially got interested in carseats when my oldest child was a baby and the first thing I learned was about extended rear-facing. Prior to having him, I had no idea that there was any real benefit and once I fell down that rabbit hole, there was no coming back. Very early in my research I was told by another parent that if a child is kept rear-facing, they won’t fight it because they don’t know any different. And I bought that line and handed it out like candy to my friends and family. Even more so once I became a CPS Technician.

My first child fit that mold perfectly. He rear-faced until he turned 4 and never once asked to turn around, despite having more than adequate language to do so. He truly didn’t care.

I was so sure this was my doing. I told his story far and wide – the story of how he didn’t know there existed any other option and he was perfectly comfortable and blah blah blah. I was always very polite and never shamed people for forward-facing within the limits of the law, but in my mind I thought they must be crazy. Kids will rear-face forever if you let (okay, make) them.

And then I had my second child. And look, I adore him. He is one of the cutest kids on the planet. He is incredibly smart and when he’s not screaming he’s pretty articulate for his age (2.5 years) too. But he’s also basically a honey badger. He does not care if you punish him, he does not care if you want him to do something. There is no hill too small for him to die on. No battle too silly to fight. His teachers at preschool have complemented me on naming him appropriately (his name is William, we call him Will) because he is exceedingly willful.

And my little honey badger, who is petite enough that he could rear-face to middle school, is miserable in his rear-facing convertible. Every single time we get in the car he climbs into his seat and sits facing forward. Sometimes he will ask me if I think he’s funny (spoiler alert: nope), sometimes he will just demand to sit that way, but the common thread is that each time we get in the car I have to wrestle a 24 pound honey badger to rear-face in the car and get him buckled before he planks out of the seat.

At first I thought great! I will nip this in the bud and then I can write something to help other parents with this problem. But well, please don’t hold your breath on that post because the only tip I have is to give myself an extra 5 minute cushion every single time we go somewhere so I can force him into his seat. My child cares DEEPLY that he is rear-facing and he has never faced forward a day in his life.

So let me publicly eat my words. Some kids care. Some kids care very, very deeply about rear-facing, even if they have never forward-faced. And some parents would be completely reasonable to want turn their honey badgers forward after age two, even if they had room to grow rear-facing (note: I’m not encouraging this, just saying I understand it and do not judge it for even a second).

As for me, I choose to fight the fight each day, partially in hopes that I’ll break his carseat spirit and partially because the kid didn’t get his stubborn streak from his dad. You don’t grow a honey badger in a vacuum.

To my fellow badger parents, I’m sorry. If you have figured out how to cure this problem, please share. I’m all ears. And maybe some tears.