Determining whether your child is ready to transition from a forward-facing car seat to a big-kid booster seat involves more than simply looking at the child's age, height and weight. Allana Pinkerton, child passenger safety advocate for car seat manufacturer Diono, says parents often don't consider a key question: Is the child mature enough to sit in a booster?
Transitioning to a Booster
Pinkerton urges parents to ask themselves:
• Can my child sit still while the vehicle is in motion?
• Can my child use a seat belt properly?
• Can my child keep his or her seat belt fastened while driving?
When you're confident your child has the maturity to handle the comparative freedom of a booster, make sure he or she meets the minimum size requirements specified by the manufacturer of the seat you plan to buy. And Pinkerton cautions that no child younger than 4 years should make the switch.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers these guidelines, updated this year, to help you decide whether your child has outgrown a forward-facing car seat:
• He reaches the top weight or height allowed for his seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and also included in the instruction booklet.)
• His shoulders are above the top harness slots.
• His ears have reached the top of the seat.
Shopping for a Booster
Pinkerton offers these tips for finding a seat safe enough for your sweetie:
• Get a seat with a high back with deep side walls that protect against side impact.
• Look for a seat with energy-absorbing foam, which will offer more protection in a crash.
Although backless booster seats are convenient, Pinkerton says parents should rethink this style. "Why not give your child the most protection you can?" she says.
Installing a Booster
After you've selected the right seat for your child, next you have to properly install it in your vehicle. This may seem simple enough, but Pinkerton says many parents don't route the seat belt properly.
"It's a big no-no to pull the seat belt over the seat's arm rest," she says.
And just because your child is transitioning to a booster seat, that doesn't mean you should stop helping him buckle the seat belt. "Get into the habit of checking," Pinkerton says. You may find that your child is not pulling the lap belt tight enough or that the belt is getting twisted.
The AAP offers more tips for making sure your seat is properly installed:
• The lap belt lies low and snug across your child's upper thighs.
• The shoulder belt crosses the middle of your child's chest and shoulder and is off the neck.
It's important that your child sits properly in a booster seat, even if he's overweight. For heavier children, Pinkerton recommends looking for a seat that is wider and that comes with an expandable torso area.
Pinkerton offers one last tip for parents of kids who are on the verge of transitioning to a booster: "Do not cave to peer pressure! You may hear your child say, 'My friends don't ride in car seats, why should I?'" Parents are the ones who decide when their own children are ready. "Simply say, 'Mommy and Daddy love you and want to keep you safe,'" she says.