Children grow. They grow and they grow and they grow. Around this time of year we’re thinking about buying new school clothes, new shoes, getting eyes checked, etc. I’m here to suggest you add another thing to the list of things to think about as your child gets bigger: their car seat. It’s super important that a car seat is not only installed correctly but USED correctly. That means adjusting the harness (car seat straps), raising the headrest, and ensuring the installation method is still safe. Whether your child is rear- or forward-facing, and even if they’re in a booster, these are crucial car seat safety tips to keep up with.
Rear Facing Car Seat Straps
The harness straps should always be even with your child’s shoulders or slightly dipping below them. This ensures that their body stays contained within the shell of the seat in a crash scenario. But the straps being too low can be cumbersome and make it difficult to tighten the harness. Check the manual for your car seat for detailed instructions on how to move the straps, but you can generally tell if something needs to be changed by looking at the amount of space between where the child’s shoulder is and where the harness strap comes out of the seat.
If you have a sliding harness mechanism (like those pictured below) simply adjust the straps until they are even with your child’s shoulders. On an Evenflo with a sliding harness, this means grasping the red part of the straps and moving them up to shoulder level. On a Graco (or similar), this means grasping the button on top and pulling it up. Easy peasy!
If you have a harness that must be re-threaded, make sure the child’s shoulders are even with the next slot. If you can safely move them up, remove the harness from the splitter plate at the back of the seat and thread them through the next slot one by one, ensuring you reattach the harness webbing to the splitter plate again.
The harness may or may not be attached to the headrest, and that will need to move up as your child grows, too. As always: check your manual or ask a CPST for help!
Forward-Facing Car Seat Straps and Boosters
The harness straps on a forward-facing seat should be even with or above the child’s shoulders. The process for adjusting is the same as discussed for rear-facing, except you want to choose an appropriate slot level above instead of below. The same is true for booster seats; just like with a harness, the shoulder belt guide should be above the child’s shoulder.
It’s a good idea to check your child’s seat settings when they go through a growth spurt. So if you notice they need new shirts all of a sudden, it’s quite likely they’ll need an adjustment in their car seat, too!
Also: remember that if your seat is installed using the lower anchors that they have a weight limit to them. Refer to your manual for the weight guidelines, but generally, the child and seat should not exceed 65lbs. If your seat was manufactured after 2014 the weight limit will be printed right on the side of your seat, but if you need help don’t be afraid to reach out for help!
Dana is the lucky mother to two incredible kids (aged 10 & 6) and the happy wife of Nate. She stumbled around in her adult life for a while before finally realizing that she could get paid to pursue her passion: keeping kids safe. In 2013 she started working at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale where she eventually became a Child Passenger Safety Technician with additional Special Needs training. Dana also runs the child passenger safety-focused Facebook page Buckle Up Detroit and works with the amazing lady bosses at Metro Detroit Doula Services offering car seat classes, consultations, and more!