When choosing the best car seat for toddler and older children, there are a lot of important things to consider. New parents typically put a lot of time into researching infant car seats but may not always have the time to devote to researching car seats to use as their children grow. Here are some things to keep in mind when figuring out which child safety seat is best for your little one.
Infant Car Seats
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Infant car seats can only be installed rearfacing but current recommendations are that children should remain rearfacing for as long as possible or at least until age two, so an infant car seat may still be appropriate for your toddler.
If you choose to stick with your infant seat for a while, pay close attention to the weight and height limits. They vary from one car seat to the next. Most infant car seats can hold up to 40 pounds which means you can theoretically use them for a long time. That said, most kids get too tall for their infant seat before they hit the weight limit. The child’s head should be less than one inch from the top of the seat. When this height limit is reached, it’s time for an upgrade.
Convertible Car Seats
One of the nice things about convertible car seats is that they grow with your child. These seats are designed with a higher rear-facing weight limit which means that you can keep your toddler safely rear-facing for a lot longer than you could in an infant seat. In most cases, these safety seats should be installed rear-facing until the child reaches 40 or 50 pounds.
When front-facing, some of these seats can hold children up to 65 pounds. One downside to these seats is they aren’t always a good fit for small babies. They also don’t have a detachable carrier which can be inconvenient with newborns. Before you buy a convertible car seat to use for an infant, check the weight and size limits. In some cases, these are not a good choice until your child reaches their first birthday.
Read more about how convertible car seats work.
Another type of convertible car seat is an all-in-one. These seats can be used from birth and throughout your child’s life. This type of convertible seat can transform into a backless booster seat to be worn with a shoulder belt. While some people consider these seats to be a bargain, they’re not the best choice. They meet the necessary safety requirements and can be quite effective but since they’re designed for every stage, they aren’t tailored to any one stage. They also tend to be very heavy and difficult to install and, like convertible car seats, they don’t include an infant carrier.
Once your child outgrows a rear-facing infant seat or convertible car seat, the next step is a booster. Booster seats are meant to raise the child to an appropriate height so that the seat belt in your car sits properly, over the child’s collarbone and sternum. The lower belt should sit over the child’s thighs when they are buckled in.
There are two styles to choose from, backless and high back. High back models are usually considered the better choice because they help you better position the seat belt properly, give the child some side impact protection, and provide a proper headrest. That said, backless versions are super convenient as they’re lightweight and extremely portable if you need to switch them from one car to another.
State laws vary as do the height and weight of different brands of booster seats. Generally, children should use them until they’re at least nine and weight under 80 pounds.
Toddler boosters are meant specifically for toddlers of a certain height and weight. They’re forward-facing and with a harness and can then be used with your car’s seat belt when the child reaches the appropriate height and weight.
These seats are usually meant for children between 20 and 90 pounds when the harness is used and up to 120 pound with a seat belt.
Things to Consider
When choosing the best car seat for toddler and older children, the first thing you have to do is decide what type of car seat you want to use. If you’ve already invested in a convertible or all-in-one, you might want to keep using it or you may want to consider an alternative.
Car seats can be very difficult to install so make sure you choose one with easy to understand instructions. Once you have the car seat, practice buckling the seat before you put your child in it for the first time. Then, make sure the harness fits your little one as it should. The straps should be fed through the slots at or below your baby’s shoulders when rear-facing to make sure they are secure at all times.
If you plan to move your car seat from one vehicle to another or if you’re going to let grandparents or the babysitter use it when needed, consider how practical it’s going to be to make the switch as frequently as necessary.
As kids get older, there are some things you have to think about that you didn’t have to consider when they were infants. If you’re going to permit your toddler or older child to have drinks and snacks in the car, consider a booster with cup holders so they have somewhere to stash their sippy cup or water bottle.
Another feature that’s always worth thinking about with kids is whether or not the car seat is easy to clean. Some have covers that are easily removed and can be tossed in the washing machine while others you will only be able to spot clean.
Choosing the best car seat for toddler and older children is just as important as choosing the right one for your newborn. There are a lot of options out there and, as you can see, they each bring something different to the table.
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