Kids & Booster Seats: When Can My Child Ride in a Booster Seat?
When I first had kids, I had no idea how many rules there were when it came to car seats. I simply bought the infant carrier (and an adorable car seat cover!) that came with my baby stroller and figured I would sort the rest out as my daughter grew.
Looking back now, I made some car seat mistakes. More than some, really. I made my share of car seat mistakes. I didn’t realize I shouldn’t put my daughter in her car seat with her heavy winter jacket on. I turned her convertible car seat around when she was just one year old. I let her transition to a regular booster seat when she was too young because, at least it seemed at the time, that that’s what all of my friends were doing with their kids. There are certainly missteps I would take back if I could.
When my kids got older, I had the hardest time picking out booster seats. Did I need a booster with a five-point harness? Or could I use a booster that just used the car’s seat belt? And did I need a high-back booster? Or was a small, inexpensive booster okay for my kids? So many decisions to make! Boosters range widely in price, and I didn’t want to buy the wrong one! Car seats were, and still are, so confusing.
Kids & Car Seats: Ages and Stages
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) recommends that children ride in car seats from birth through age 12.
- Birth through age 1: baby can ride in an infant carrier, with or without a base for the car seat installed in the vehicle.
- Birth through age 4: baby and toddler can ride in a convertible car seat if it is rear-facing (children should remain rear-facing until at least age 2)
- Age 2 through age 4: a toddler is able to ride in a forward-facing car seat, although rear-facing is still recommended
- Age 4 through age 8: the child is able to ride in a booster seat
- Age 8 and up: child can ride without a booster seat, but the child should remain in the back seat of a vehicle
- Age 13 and up: child can ride in the front seat of a car (although the back is safer in the event of an accident)
Kids & Car Seats: Finding the Right Booster Seat
If you’re like me, once your child able to get herself in and out of the car without assistance, you were probably ready for your kiddo to get herself buckled in, too. When my oldest no longer needed my help strapping into the car, it was such a game changer (I was suddenly so ready for all the roadtrips!).
But how do you know which booster seat is right for your child? Let me break down the various types of boosters for you:
Backless Booster Seat: Backless booster seats are the smallest car seats for kids on the market. Because they are so small, they are also the least expensive and are often preferred by older children. They are also easy to move between vehicles or take with you on a trip. Backless boosters fit in the car’s seat and lift your child up so that the car seat’s belt can properly restrain her. According to The Car Seat Lady, if your child’s ears do not meet the top of the car’s seat while sitting in the booster, your child is too small for a booster seat to properly protect her in the event of an accident.
High-back Booster Seat: These are also known as belt-positioning boosters. They have a high back that comes up past you child’s ears and uses the car’s seat belt to properly restrain your child. Oftentimes the high back part of this booster detaches from the in-seat portion of this car seat to transform it into a backless booster when your child is ready. Unlike a backless booster, which is usually just placed into a vehicle, a high-back booster seat is usually secured into a vehicle using a latch system.
Convertible Booster Seat: A convertible booster seat looks similar to a high-back booster seat. However, with a convertible booster seat, you are able to restrain your child with a five-point harness. The five-point harness is best for kids who meet the height requirements for a booster but not the weight requirements. A child who weighs less than 40 should be buckled into the car with a five-point harness. Once the child weighs more than 40 pounds, this booster seat can be converted to a high-back booster and use just the car seat’s seatbelt to secure the child in the vehicle. Like the high-back booster seat, the convertible booster seat is usually secured in a vehicle using a latch system.
Kids & Car Seats: Booster Seat Requirements
When it comes to booster seats for your child, it is hard to say what the best choice is. While personal preference plays a role in selecting a booster seat that is right for your child, it is also important that your child meets the requirements for that seat. A child who is not properly secured in the right type of car seat for her age and weight is not going to be adequately protected in the event of an accident.
In order to ride in a booster seat, children should be:
-at least 4 years of age
-at least 40 pounds in weight
-at least 35 inches tall
If your child doesn’t meet all of those requirements, she should still be in a convertible car seat.
In order for your child to ride in a vehicle without a car seat, she should meet the following requirements:
-be at least 8 years of age
-be at least 4 feet 9 inches tall
If your child meets both of those requirements, cherish this time. She will be in college before you can blink!