Car Seat Ages: A Simple Guide for Parents

Most parents understand that their children must be in a car seat while riding in a vehicle. Also, many parents understand that it is illegal to allow your child to ride outside of a car seat as well. What most parents do not realize is that car seat laws are very often different from car seat recommendations. In addition to this, there are also particular recommendations by car seat ages for what type of car seat your child should be in.

Being well informed about these differences could make the difference between your child being injured in a wreck, or your child being safe and well. This guide will help you learn what you need to know to keep your child safe.

One of the most important aspects of car seat education is to understand car seat ages. Children will have different car seat needs at just about every age and stage of their life. This is one instance in which one size does not fit all. In order to make sure your child is as safe as possible, you must be sure you are using the appropriate car seat for their age group. You must also make sure you are using that car seat correctly.

What Is a Baby Car Seat?

Britax Endeavours Infant Car Seat, Circa

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A car seat is supposed to be a safety measure which you can use to keep your child as safe as possible while riding in a vehicle. However, more often than not, a car seat actually becomes an obstacle to actually getting your child in the car at all. 

Car seats can be very complicated if you do not understand car seat ages. If you are trying to get your child safely strapped in your vehicle in a hurry, then you understand that the difficulty with car seats can be huge.

Why Are Car Seats So Difficult?

What Can I Do to Simplify the Car Seat Problem?

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Importance of a Baby Car Seat

The car seat is important because different sized children need different safety measures to keep them safe in a vehicle. This is why understanding car seat ages is essential. A wreck will affect children differently than adults, and it will affect babies differently than older children.

Am I Installing the Seat Right?

In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required new labeling of the LATCH system in cars and on car seats. These instructions can seem confusing. They warn parents that once the child and the car seat combined weigh over 65 pounds, the LATCH system should be discontinued.

Many parents misinterpreted this to mean that once the child reaches 65 pounds, a car seat is to be discontinued. This is not accurate according to other recommendations and laws concerning child restraint.

This instruction from the NHTSA should actually be interpreted to mean that once your child and car seat combined reach 65 pounds, the regular seat belt should be used to restrain the child and seat. Unfortunately, information like this, along with changing recommendations for each year and the size of a child’s life can be really confusing for parents.

The only way you can be sure you are installing your seat right for your particular vehicle is to study your vehicles LATCH section of your car manual as well as study the installation guidelines which came along with the car seat.

How to Be Sure

If you want to be sure that your car seat is being installed correctly, you can contact a CPS Technician. You can find a certified technician at cert.safekids.org. These professionals will meet with parents, evaluate the seat and the vehicle and educate you on how to install your seat for maximum safety. Remember the seat is only keeping your child safe if it is installed properly.

How to Choose the Right Car Seat

Choosing the right car seat has everything to do with your child’s age and size. Different seats are made for different car seat ages and stages. There are convertible seats available, which are designed to move along with your child through the different stages and sizes. To begin with, let’s look at what children need at the different car seat ages. 

Infants

It is recommended and required by law in some states that infants ride rear facing. This is why infant seats are designed to be rear facing only. Rear-facing is the safest option for children under 2. Many parents do not abide by the rear facing till two rules. You will need to research the laws in your state to make sure you comply with state law concerning your child’s position in the vehicle.

Many states also have laws in place concerning where a child is placed at in the vehicle. Many states will not allow youngsters to ride in the front seat at all, while others will allow it in a truck or van, but not in a car. You must research the particular laws in your state to make sure you are making the safest choice for your child.

Infant seats are much smaller than other car seats and are often portable. These seats often have a handle for easy carrying the infant to and from the car. The period in which a child will remain in an infant seat is short. You will need to be well informed on when your child should bump up to the next type of seat according to car seat ages.

A good rule of thumb is that at this stage a child is safest in the center of a rear seat. If you cannot use this position because of the setup of your seatbelts, or because of other car seats in the vehicle, just make sure you are positioning the seat in the spot in the rear where you can get the tightest hold. If you are using a seat belt to secure the seat, then pull the belt until it is switched in locked mode.

Once the seat is installed, you will want to position your child in the seat properly. Make sure the straps are snug without being uncomfortable.

Toddlers

Usually, around the time a child is 8 or 9 months old, it will be time to bump up into a bigger seat or a convertible seat. There are rear facing seats available which will adjust to allow your growing child to remain rear facing while at the same time giving them leg room. If you want your child to remain rear-facing longer, then you will want to look into this option.

Once your child reaches the upper weight limits for their infant seat, it will be time to move into a forward-facing seat. Forward facing seats are very different from infant seats. Do not be in a hurry to bump into a forward-facing seat. Rear-facing is the safest position for a child. You should only change to forward facing when your child is absolutely too big for rear facing any longer.

Be sure the forward-facing seat is installed correctly, and that you have a seat latching system which your child cannot undo. If you are using the LATCH system in your car for the forward-facing seat, then you will want to re-educate yourself again on how to use LATCH for the new seat properly.

What About Wiggly Toddlers?

One of the difficulties at this stage is with toddlers who are bound and determined to get out of their car seats. Despite the fact that car seats are designed and engineered by geniuses, a toddler can usually figure out how to get out of the seat without you knowing it.

You should do some research to find forward facing seats that have difficult harness systems which will outsmart your child. The downside to this is that sometimes the systems outsmart the parents rather than the child. Make sure you are the expert, not your kid.

If your child figures out how to get out of their car seat, you should look at the problem from two different angles. First, this is a discipline problem because you will need to teach your child not to get out of the seat. You need to teach your child not even to try to get out of the seat.

By the time your child is old enough for a front facing car seat, they are old enough to begin understanding that some things are allowed, and others are not allowed. This will be the period in which you are trying to teach them many safety rules about their world.

Safety rules about their car seat should be right up there with not running away in a parking lot, not touching electrical outlets and other obvious safety rules. Next, you should look at the problem from a safety angle. What can you do to make the seat safer and more difficult to escape from?

Usually, toddlers escape their car seats because they are bored. You can solve this problem by making sure your child is fairly entertained while strapped in the seat during a drive. Many vehicles come equipped with DVD features so that your child can enjoy a video while going for a drive. Use this feature if you have it. This will add to the safety of your child.

Big Kids

Many parents make the mistake of thinking that child restraint seats are just for infants and toddlers. The truth is that most states require that when children reach the upper weight limits of the forward-facing seat, that they graduate into a booster seat.

This usually is around age 5, but the real recommendations are based on weight, not age. The current rule of thumb is to move to the booster after the child has reached the weight limit for the forward-facing seat.

Many parents do not understand why a child needs the booster seat. The booster seat allows the child to be positioned correctly so that the seat belt can actually make the child safer. Without the booster seat, the seat belt will put the child at greater risk of injury. The chest strap of a regular seat belt can be dangerous for a small child. The booster puts the child in the best, safest position.

You should choose a booster that will best suit your child’s needs. Children who must ride a lot and often fall asleep in the car will need a high back booster seat which provides more side impact protection. Your child will likely want a backless booster seat as they get older.

This is in part to the fact that at some point your child will feel embarrassed over still riding in a booster seat. The backless booster is far less obvious as it is hidden under the child’s bottom.

Positioning in the booster seat is just as important as positioning in the infant seat. You should make sure your child is positioned in such a way that the shoulder belt comes down over your child’s chest and belly. The seatbelt should not be against your child’s neck.

Remember that a child should remain in the booster seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches. This is usually somewhere between 8 and 12 years of age. This is the period in which many parents opt to follow the minimum options required by laws in their state.

You should note that most parents toss the booster seat long before the child reaches 4 foot 9 inches. The reasons have nothing to do with safety either. In most cases, the booster gets tossed because the child feels they are too old for the seat.

If you have a small child, then they could very well remain in their booster seat until they are 12 years old. Most kids find this bothersome. It is the parent’s duty to keep the child safe, however. You should follow the safest recommendations for your child concerning child restraint in vehicles. 

Car Seat Ages - Conclusion

Car seats can appear to be confusing. With the right education and commitment to getting it right, however, you can become your child’s car seat expert. In the event of a crash, you will be so glad that you invested the time to learn how to keep your child safe.

Once you have figured out your car’s LATCH system and you understand your particular car seat, make sure that your child is restrained properly every time. Even if your child fights you on this, it is worth it in the long run. Your child’s safety is worth it.