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Name:
Location: Allentown, PA

I'm a Christian wife and a mom to three daughters and two sons. I'm a member of the board of directors of EmPoWeReD Birth. In my "spare time" I'm a doula, and a certified childbirth instructor.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Houdini in a carseat

Do you have one? A child who finds escaping from her carseat to be a delightful challenge?

I don't. I've been blessed I guess. My kids are fairly happy in the car. My youngest didn't like long trips in his infant seat...and my oldest once screamed for 45 minutes straight while I drove from the northeast side of Pittsburgh to the northwest side (I had driven from Allentown then stopped for dinner with an aunt, and my daughter was quite happy to escape her carseat. But then when I put her back into it to complete the drive to my grandparents' house she was NOT happy! I stopped a couple of times to try to calm her, but she just started screaming again as soon as I put her back in the seat, so I just clenched my jaw and pressed on.) But other than that, they've been pretty compliant about the whole carseat thing. Yeah...sometimes they *try* to get out (particularly Jason), but so far Jessica--who is 6--is the only one capable of getting herself--and her siblings--out of seats. And she knows it is in her best interest to wait until the vehicle is parked so that she remains safe.

But I have run into a fair share of parents who have troubles with "Houdini children." Some parents seem to feel that this only needs to be dealt with as a rebellion issue--the child needs to learn to comply with the parental directive of staying in the carseat. My opinion is that if your child is escaping from his carseat there is a bigger problem than rebellion. A 2-3 year old really should not be capable of escaping from a child safety seat.

As a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, when I hear about kids escaping from carseats and I start asking questions about it, I usually end up coming to one of two basic reasons for the escape: The wrong seat is being used for the child, or the harness is not tight enough. Neither one of these bode well for a crash situation.

In the case of the "wrong seat," the wrong seat can either be a shield style convertible (tray shield sitting in front of the child or a T-shield), or it can be a case of a child moved into a belt positioning booster too soon.

With the shield style seats, the design of the seat prevents the harness from being very snug around the child. There also isn't hip restraint, which can allow a true Houdini child to wiggle out of even a fairly snug harness. Some kids just don't like the bulky shield in front of them (perhaps makes them feel claustrophobic?), so they will do whatever they can to get out. Shield style seats generally aren't favored in the safety community because the child is expected to impact on the shield as part of the restraint--this is like you or I hitting the dashboard. It may keep you from going any further forward, but it hurts and can cause significant injury (including in rare cases death--but broken bones and internal organ injury are more common). 5-point style harnesses are preferred because they reduce the impact risk, they also incorporate hip straps that help to hold a child down.

As far as belt positioning boosters, children generally aren't mature enough to use these seats safely until they are 4-5 years old. Even if they can be coerced into sitting still, if they are under 40 lbs they are better protected in a harnessed seat. Especially if you are using a shield style booster like a Gerry Double Guard or Cosco Grand Explorer you should know that a significant risk of these seats is having the child "fold" over the sheild and suffer serious abdominal/spinal injuries, and secondly ejection is a very real risk in side impact and roll-over crashes. These seats aren't FAA approved because they fail the roll over test required for FAA approval. (This is also my chance to mention that old seats DO expire! I just last week confiscated a Gerry Double Guard from the Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Center donation bin at my church. It was made in 1997--8 years old. Now I think I've got the folks at my local Care Net pretty well trained to toss stuff like that...but no point taking chances! Anything over 5 years old that comes into a carseat check we are REALLY looking for an excuse to replace it with a new seat, 10 years old will get it replaced for age in and of itself. The issues with old seats are that newer technology provides better protection, and older seats are often missing parts/instructions that are vital for proper use.)

Harness tightness was the second major category I listed for reasons for children being able to get out of car seats. The button to release the harness generally requires more force to release it than a typical 2-3 year old can generate. Even my almost 5 year old daughter can not let herself out of her seat. The harness should be "snug as a hug." There should not be slack in the harness, but it shouldn't be cutting into the child. Puffy winter coats should not be worn with carseats, as they result in loosening of the harness straps. In the winter time, when you get out to the car (which is hopefully pre-heated), take off the kids' coats, buckle them into their seats, and then put the coats on them backwards, and cover up with blankets as needed (we keep a small fleece blanket for each child in the van). For a child using a belt positioning booster you might be able to get away with just unzipping the coat, buckling the seat belt, then zipping the coat back up over the seat belt.

Now yes, there are "Houdinis" out there. When it comes to those kids, I recommend a proactive training approach. First, try to be REALLY alert for a day or so to any time the child runs head-long into a wall, or piece of furniture, or whatever. Make a big deal about how much it hurt--make that event memorable in the child's mind. Then schedule a "training drive." Make sure to bring along one of your child's prized stuffed animals, and put it on the seat next to your child--unrestrained--don't let the child hold it. Drive in a quiet neighborhood without much traffic/danger. Suddenly slam on the brakes. The doll will go flying. Grab up the doll and make a big deal about looking for injuries--perhaps find one and bandage it up quickly with some cloth strips you have conveniently tucked in your pocket. Then turn to your child with very animated emotions, and say "OH MY GOODNESS! It is SO good that you are buckled in your car seat. If you hadn't been buckled you would have flown right along with your teddy bear. And then you would have gotten hurt very badly! Remember when you ran into the chair this morning, how much you got hurt? This would have hurt a LOT more!!!"

Kids are very visual, it works. Then when you buckle the child in in the future you remind the child "remember how your teddy bear flew? You don't want to do that, do you? You will get owies. Okay, so keep your seat belt on, just like Momma keeps her seat belt on." BTW, if you and your partner don't both wear seat belts, there is no better time to start--kids pick up on that. When I was 3 I questioned my father--"why do I have to be in this seat if you don't wear your seatbelt?" Well he started wearing a seat belt! 1976.

8 Comments:

Blogger TulipGirl said...

Hmmm. What a novel idea!

Teach our little ones about carseats, model safety, and MAKE SURE THEY HAVE A SAFE CARSEAT.

Sounds like a much better (and safer!) plan than the multiple spankings some parents give for carseat gymnastics.


Related to that. . . Our boys have not been in carseats for nearly 4 years. We haven't owned a vehicle, and walked, took public transport, or a taxi.

Understandably, my four year old balked at the carseat at first. Too quote LarryBoy, "It's very constricting." One day I sat next to him, and help his hand when he was squirmy. We explained the safety issues to him. And then I made him "in charge" of letting me know when everyone was buckled up.

You know? Those things worked. We didn't have an unnecessary power struggle in which I needed to "prove" my Mommy-authority. And he's happy to be in his carseat now. (Even to the point where he's insistent--"I'll buckle up MYSELF!")

Anyway. . . Just rambling thoughts related to your post and another one I read today about houdinis in carseats. *grin*

8:08 PM, April 30, 2005  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I'm thinking that maybe care seats have changed a bit in the past three years since we've had anyone in one?

We've never used the shield-type seats, because these didn't seem safe to me. We made sure the straps were tight and the child and seat fit together correctly and safely.

All of my little ones could buckle themselves in and out of the car seat at around 2-3 years of age. This was such a HUGE help to me, especially when we had two to three children in car seats. I'd get the baby in the seat, and the other children would all scamper into their seats and buckle up. Once we reached the destination, they would all unbluckle and scamper out.

I thought all large families did this!

8:18 AM, May 07, 2005  
Blogger Jenn said...

Rebecca,

Hey, I never imagined that YOU would post on my blog...I'm honored. ;-)

I do know that many large families have their kids buckle themselves in, but I can't imagine how they unbuckle themselves--it takes about 12 lbs of pressure to push the button to unlatch the harness (there is a specific pressure range required by law, I don't know off the top of my head what it is). My kids simply can't do it until they are about 5...well my two older girls at least, we'll see about the boys, huh? ;-)

I have 4 children currently aged 6 1/2 and under. My oldest uses a belt positioning booster these days and can buckle herself in, but for about 6 months after our 4th was born she was still using a harnessed seat and needed help. I know it is time consuming...but it's life. ;-)

Quite frankly, it scares me when I see a child buckle herself into a harnessed seat. I've seen too many instances where kids only get one buckle tong in, or they don't get either fully latched in, just kind of loosely shoved into the female end. In a crash this is not going to hold. I've never seen a harness that is properly tightened when kids are self-buckling--they simply don't have the strength to manipulate the buckle pieces if it is. Often they end up twisting the harness so badly it lays in ropes over their shoulders...all set to make deep and serious bruises in even a hard breaking situation. Yes, my kids do put their arms into the harness and put the chest clip together (I imagine you only had one piece chest clips when your kids were in seats), but buckling the harness is too hard for them.

9:44 PM, May 09, 2005  
Blogger Jenn said...

One person commented to me that my two basic reasons for a child being able to escape (harness too loose or incorrect seat) didn't hold true for her child because the reason her kid was able to get out was because he was loosening his harness...

I have to go back on this one to "harness too loose." If the harness is tight enough, the child should not be able to reach a harness adjustor that is located between his feet. If a child can lean forward and move anything but his head away from the seat, the harness is too loose. His shoulders should stay firmly held to the seat.

If it is a seat with the harness adjuster on the shoulder straps then the problems is "wrong seat for the child." Do you really want to entrust the safety of a preschooler to their ability to resist fiddling on a boring car ride?

9:54 PM, May 12, 2005  
Blogger TulipGirl said...

Jenn, I appreciate you sharing your expertise in this area.

It *looks like* (Praying not so. . .) that our van will be totalled out and we'll be in the market for another vehicle (and, carseats.) I was at a job interview today and felt so competent and I *know* I'd be great for that job. Yet, the idea of having to buy another vehicle and make decisions about carseats has me near tears.

(Hormonal, yes I am. Breathing deep. Reminding myself God is sovereign. Trusting it all to work out. . .)

I need coffee.

10:21 AM, May 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Daughter is 31 months old. She uses the 5 point harness seat belt in her car seat. Recently she has begun to take off the seat belt. She can push down the red button and get it to release. I have tried the approach of taking her around the block and let her bear fly, but when she is having a fit she doesn't think about that. I am afraid for her. She is 38 inches tall and weighs approx 35 lbs. I know she is not ready for just a booster, but how else do I keep her safe? Please Help!

2:23 PM, October 18, 2006  
Blogger Jenn said...

My Daughter is 31 months old. She uses the 5 point harness seat belt in her car seat. Recently she has begun to take off the seat belt. She can push down the red button and get it to release.

Have you tried turning the buckle around so that the red button faces her belly instead of facing out? That will make it a bit harder for her to reach.

Unfortunately I'm pretty sure you can't do this with Britax seats because their buckle tongs are specific to each side--unless maybe you take the harness shoulder straps out and reverse them? You didn't mention what brand of seat you have.

If she's unbuckling from a harnessed seat you are right, she is not in any way ready for a booster--she would unbuckle from that just as quickly as from a harnessed seat.

12:25 PM, October 30, 2006  
Blogger Jenn said...

Oh wait..."push down on the red button"--yeah, that's a Britax seat, right? I've heard people refer to that button as screaming to be pushed. I'd still try flipping it around...but might not be helpful. So I'll go ahead and give my second suggestion...I've seen buckle covers that you can put over the buckle. I'm not sure where you get them, but perhaps check with the One Step Ahead catalog?

12:27 PM, October 30, 2006  

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