Busy families are out and about during the chilly winter holidays. And that means striking the perfect balance between keeping your little one warm as well as safely buckled in her carseat. But sometimes the two don’t work so well together. Puffy coats, bulky sweaters and every other bundling item for the cold winter chill can mean a not-so-perfect carseat fit. So how do you keep your child both safe and warm? Try these five tips from child passenger safety advocate and certified children’s restraint systems technician instructor Trudy Slaght. The tips below can apply to infant seats and rear or forward-facing car seats.
Tip #1: Reduce bulk between the child’s back and shell of the carseat (or booster). Shop for a coat that isn’t bulky, puffy or made of a slippery fabric. Do not use sleeping bag-style products.
Bulk between the child’s back and shell of the car seat changes the way the harness straps sit on a baby or toddler. Winter jackets can be bulky and puffy. In a collision the air in a jacket is squeezed out, leaving the harness too loose and therefore unsafe. It’s important to take the extra time to find a jacket that is lightweight but warm. Fleece works well, as do fall or spring weight jackets. Beware that coats are often made of slippery fabrics too, which can lead to the harness slipping off the shoulders.
Non-regulated (third party aftermarket) products pose potential safety risks. Despite the deaths of children due to the use of aftermarket products, manufacturers continue to sell them because there are no regulations surrounding them. These include sleeping bag-style products designed to be used in cold weather.
Tip #2: Equip yourself with safe, warm supplies including hats, mittens, blankets, lightweight sweater or jacket, or a poncho-style cover (designed for infant seats only).
Poncho-style covers are either fleece or quilted fabric with an elasticized edge that are designed to go over top of the car seat. Most of them have an opening on top that you can open to see baby’s face, all of them are safe to use because they don’t go between baby and the car seat nor do they have any effect on the fit of the harness.
Tip #3: If your baby or toddler is wearing a jacket or sweater with a hood, put the hood up to reduce bulk. For older kids in boosters, coats should be lifted so the lap portion of the belt is in contact with the body and the belt is securely fastened against the hips. You want to ensure that there is no bulk sitting around the hips or over the shoulders.
Get started by putting the hat and mitts on your little one. Then place him (or her) into his car seat. Be sure to slide his bum all the way back and ensure that his back is snug against the shell of the car seat.
Once he is well-positioned, place the harness straps over him and buckle the harness according to your car seat manufacturer’s directions. Tighten the harness so that the harness is snug on their body — you shouldn’t be able to pinch a horizontal fold in the harness at the child’s shoulders, then slide the chest clip up to his armpit level.
Once the baby or child is safely buckled, layer blankets over top of him and tuck them in on his sides. If you have a cover for the car seat, place that on before heading out the door.
For booster riders and seatbelt passengers as well, lift the coat up and ensure the seatbelt is fastened snuggly over the hips.
Tip #4: On really cold days you may need to use a winter coat over top of the lighter coat to get your child from your house to your car, but it needs to be removed before placing your child in the car seat or booster.
Remember, after being on the road for a while, the car can heat up. It’s common for children to throw the blankets off when they start to get hot. If you have trouble getting your little one to keep the blankets on, some parents find it easier to put the winter coat on to their child backwards after he’s buckled up.
Tip #5: On longer trips, remove covers or blankets.
On long trips, remove the blanket that’s covering Baby, at least partially, to prevent her from over-heating. Toddlers and preschoolers will control their own comfort by tossing their blankets off. For children in booster seats, coats should be removed altogether on long trips.
Trudy Slaght is a child passenger safety advocate for Clek, a Toronto-based company that provides modern safety products for today’s families on the go. Visit www.clekinc.com to learn more.