Guest post by Michelle Pratt, Nationally Certified Child Passenger Safety Expert and Founder of Safe in the Seat providing in-depth car seat safety courses and resources for parents of infants to big kids.
I became a nationally certified child passenger safety technician and started Safe in the Seat because years ago, as a first-time parent, I found little support around one critically important aspect: car seats. Driving is the riskiest thing we do with our children because of car crashes, yet the education, support and resources are confusing, complex and hard to find. I became the expert I needed to feel car seat confident. Now, I share that knowledge with parents and caregivers on Safe in the Seat’s Instagram page, through online courses and in personalized consults.
When parents reach out to me they always ask what my top tips are for car seat safety, but it's difficult to hone in on just a few. When it comes to car seat safety, it's really about the total package and how everything works together to keep your child safe in the seat. I think that's why car seat safety is such a confusing and challenging thing for parents and caretakers. There are a zillion moving parts, and each needs to be in lockstep. Still, you have to start somewhere, so here are the top 10 things I want all parents to know.
#1 Using car seats correctly is even harder than you think.
I know that’s not what you want to hear, but study after study proves car seats are not common sense, and it's that very misconception that is putting kids in danger. I keep trying to bust that myth. Safe in the Seat is all about creating a loving community of people who proudly admit they don't know what they don't know and aren't afraid to learn something new every day that can save them from wondering "what if” or “if only I would have known."
#2 More expensive car seats are not inherently safer.
It’s important for parents to know that all car seats on the market, sold by reputable retailers, undergo the same crash test standards. They are all safe, although some car seats do offer additional safety features like load legs or ant rebound bars.
As a nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, I always tell parents and caregivers it's so much more important to know HOW to properly use your child’s car seat than the car seat itself. You can purchase an expensive car seat and make critical misuses that will endanger your child's life. You can purchase an inexpensive car seat and nail every adjustment, do your research, get harnessing and install spot-on and in my opinion, you're way better off.
#3 Car seats need to work for your unique situation.
Don’t ask your friends (unless they are nationally certified CPSTs) or concern yourself with brand names. This is life and death stuff, so trends take a back seat. What worked for your loving friend may not work for you. Every single situation requires a customized car seat solution.This means you need to do your research to find what will work best with your vehicle, your lifestyle and your ability to use it correctly every time. It’s also critically important that you purchase the proper car seat for the age and stage your child requires – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
#4 If you’re expecting, practice installation and harnessing before your baby arrives.
Buckling a baby into a car seat for the first time is not intuitive. Grab a doll, teddy bear, anything handy and get familiar with your car seat and how the harness works. It will save so much stress when it is time to head home from the place of birth! Installation mistakes are extremely common. Not attaching the car seat to the vehicle properly and/or the car seat is not installed securely and moves more than one inch when checked at the belt path.
#5 Make sure to ask the right people the right questions.
I love my mom tribe and lean on them for so many things. But, you wouldn't ask your OBGYN how to change the oil in your car just because they have one and you wouldn't ask your auto mechanic to give you a pelvic exam just because they have one. When it comes to car seat safety, it's life and death stuff. I always encourage people to be sure they’re asking for guidance from a current, nationally certified child passenger safety technician – like me!
Check out Safe in the Seat.com. On my website, you can learn more about online courses, personalized consults. Beyond the services I offer, check cert.safekids.org to find and connect with a nationally certified child passenger safety technician in your area. You will see my name listed there too! Also, if you need additional information about your specific car seat, your manufacturer is a great resource. Most support lines are staffed with certified experts who are extremely familiar with the details of their products. Call them!
#6 You cannot go to a fire station for help using a car seat.
A big myth worth debunking is that you can go to a fire station to have your car seat checked. Most Fire stations DO NOT have a nationally certified child passenger safety technician on staff. Nor do hospitals. And, pediatricians and nurses are often not trained in car seat safety—it is just not part of their medical training. The best-intentioned police officers, firefighters, doctors and nurses are vital to our communities, but that doesn’t mean by default that they are experts in car seat safety.
#7 Harnessing mistakes are very pervasive.
Your child's body will grow and develop over time and this means their car seat needs to grow and evolve right along with them. It's not a one-and-done thing. There are tons of adjustments that need to be made to your child's car seat so it fits like a glove through every step of their development. Details matter, so the tightness of the straps, the overall adjustments of harness straps and the crotch buckle, as well as placement of the chest clip. Each of these details need to be spot-on for your child’s car seat to properly position their body and protect them in a crash.
#8 Keep your kids in the stage they are in as long as possible.
One of the most common mistakes parents make is prematurely moving their child to the next stage of car seat before it’s time. This puts their child at great risk and it’s why we want to encourage parents to take this one slow, there is zero benefit in racing ahead before it’s time to transition. The decision to move onto the next stage of car seat is all about safety and science, not parental preference!
#9 Kids should remain rear-facing as long as possible.
Your child should use a rear-facing car seat until the weight or height limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer are maxed out. This is a hot button issue and it really doesn’t have to be. We have the science and data to know what’s safest, and rear-facing is just that! Kid’s tiny bodies are not developed enough to withstand the impact of crash forces, and by turning them before it’s time, you’re putting them at risk. In my latest course I break down crash dynamics step-by-step and end the module explaining why rear facing is so important. By the end of a series of videos it becomes perfectly clear. When parents understand the why, the how makes so much more sense.
#10 It’s never too late to get car seat safety right.
So many people in the Safe in the Seat community are not first-time parents. They are there, often realizing for the first time, they did several unsafe things for years with a previous child and now, having learned, they are able to correct those mistakes. I absolutely love those ah-ha moments and parents’ openness to learning new things. That’s what we are all about.
If you aren’t already there, I want to personally invite readers to join the Safe in the Seat Instagram community. It’s packed full of free information, updates, tips and tricks - but maybe even more than that, it’s a judgement-free zone full of love and support. Together, we connect in a way that fills my heart and it will do the same for you!