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How To Get Your Toddler To Buckle Up

Toddler Car Seat
Despite the emphasis placed on buckling up some parents still ignore the importance of seat belts and let their children ride without one. Unfortunately sometimes parents assume that it's okay to not use child seat belts on short trips. This type of mindset can lead to some tragic consequences. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 13. Not only does being careless jeopardize your childs safety when they're young but it can also shape how children perceive seat belts later on in life.
Startling statistics show that more than 60 percent of toddlers involved in car accidents come within the first 10 minutes of departure. It doesn't take highway speeds either for there to be serious injury, death can occur at speeds as low as 12 MPH. Other findings from NHTSA reveals that in 2016, 10,428 unbuckled passengers died in car accidents in the US. Astonishingly, research indicates that had the occupants just worn their seat belts about 2,456 lives could have been saved. The simple fact is seat belts save lives.
Let's take a closer look at how seat belts make cars safer, the type of seating arrangement that's right for your toddler and how you can encourage your children to get into the habit of buckling up.

How do seat belts/restraints make cars safer?
According to the NHTSA a driver shouldn't start a journey without making sure all of the occupants have their safety belts on. Seat belts/restraints play a crucial role in preventing grave injuries in the event of a crash. There are a number of reasons why your child should always wear a safety belt, even if you're just taking a short trip. Below are some of the ways that seat belts help in preventing or minimizing injuries to both the driver and the passengers.

Reduces Force Inertia

When a vehicle stops suddenly your body is still in motion. This is known as Newton's first law of motion. In the event of a crash the force felt from the seat belt is applied over a longer time. This helps in reducing the severity of personal injuries. Windshields on the other hand aren't nearly as forgiving when it comes to absorbing the force of your body.

Distributes Force

Seat belts are also designed to distribute the force of the impact over your body. More importantly, it will not just spread the force across your entire body, it distributes force over the strongest parts of your body. This prevents injuries to sensitive parts of the body such as your head and vital organs.

Keeps The Occupant Seated

Another advantage to wearing seat belts is that they prevent the occupant from being ejected from the car when there's a collision. Car frames are designed to remain intact and absorb the force of an accident. If you're ejected from a car you lose that protection and could face serious harm.

Protect Other Occupants

In the event of a frontal crash unbelted rear occupants are often catapulted forward. This could lead to serious injuries to the front seat occupants even if they're buckled up.

What's the appropriate seating arrangement for my child?
As a starter point all children under the age of 13 years should ride in the back seat and use a restraint. Sitting in the back seat will protect your child from front airbags, which are geared toward protecting adults, when they deploy. When properly used child seats/restraints can give your child a safer ride. We'll look at how seating arrangements are generally broken out by age but you should also consider the height and weight of your child. The seat's instructional manual will indiciate the seat's maximum allowance for height and weight.

Rear-Facing Car Seat (Birth - 3 Years Old)

You should keep children of this age group in a rear-facing car seat until they exceed the maximum height or weight limit as recommended by the seat manufacturer. The longer you can keep your child in a rear-facing car seat the better. In the event of a frontal car accident a rear-facing car seat will provide the best support for their body and reduce the risk of injury.

Forward-Facing Car Seat (4 - 7 Years Old)

After your child has outgrown their rear-facing car seat you should put them in a forward-facing car seat. They should remain in the forward-facing car seat until they exceed the maximum height or weight limit as recommended by the seat manufacturer. When installing a forward-facing car seat you should note if both your seat and car have latch anchors or tether anchors. Securing the seat to these additional anchor points will prevent the seat from moving around in the event of a collision.

Booster Seat (8 - 12 Years Old)

After your child has outgrown their forward-facing car seat and once the car seat belt fits properly you can graduate your child to a booster seat. Generally speaking, car seat belts fit properly when children are at least 57 inches. If your car has adjustable seat belt positions by the shoulder anchoring point you may need to lower them to accomodate your childs shorter frame.

Car Seat Belts (12+ Years Old)

The ideal height for using the car's safety belt is 57 inches. For the belt to fit correctly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt should lay across the chest. If the belt is across the stomach, face or the neck your child isn't ready to use it. Additionally, the child should always ride on the back seat since it’s safer than the front.

How can parents encourage toddlers to buckle up?
Parents should start promoting the use of seat belts from a tender age. By molding safe behavior early on parents will instill the importance of wearing a seat belt throughout a child's life. With persistence and strictness a parent can use the following tips to ensure that their children are always buckled up.

Lead By Example

As a parent you're the perfect example for your child. Since children often mimic what they see you should always put on your own seat belt. By persistently encouraging the use of seat belt your children will mimic your safe behavior and internalize the benefits that come with the action.

Reinforce Good Behavior

Once your child reaches the age where they have the dexterity to buckle their own seat belt you should offer words of encouragement when they manage to do it on their own. It's normal if they struggle at first but with some guidance and persistant positive reinforcement they'll be doing it on their own before you know it. Maintain the positive reinforcement until putting on a seat belt becomes an automatic thing with your child.

Denounce Bad Behavior

Unfortunately children can be a bit mischievous at times. If you catch your child removing their seat belt or the seat belt of another passenger you should reprimand them and let them know that doing that sort of thing is very dangerous and that it wont be tolerated. Your child might think it's a harmless game to unbuckle a seat belt while underway but it's a serious danger. Taking off seat belts while underway is something we've experienced with our own children. Fortunately no harm came but you have to remain vigalent. Nobody knows when/if they're going to be in an accident so stay prepared.

Emphasize The Consequences

Talk to your child about the severe hazards that failure using the seat belts can lead to. As children get older they can begin to appreciate cause and effect. If they understand that not wearing a seat belt could result in serious injury they'll be more inclinded to cooperate with wearing a seat belt and even put it on themselves.

Stick To A Seat

If your child isn't ready for the car seat belt yet be sure to use a car seat every time you travel with your child. No matter how short the trip is ensure that your child is bucked up in age appropriate seating. If you treat this as an automatic part of life your child will adapt the automatic behavior too. If your child rides along with other family members or friends make sure that they have the appropriate seat for your child. If they don't make sure your child's seat goes with them so that they're using the appropriate seating arrangement.

Break As Needed

Long journeys can be tiring for a young child. However you should never take off your child's seat belt while the vehicle is moving. If the child wants to stretch find a parking spot and let them out to stretch. If you're planning a long road trip you may need to plan on making a stop or two even if you don't need to just so your child can take a break from being seated.

Our Final Take
As a parent you should never get on the road without your child putting on their seat belt. We'd be failing our children if we didn't teach them the importance of buckling up every time they get in a car. With seat belt laws now passed in most US states you have some additional incentives for making sure all occupants are buckled up. Enforcing this law on our children ensures that they're safer in the car which is always a good thing. Going by the statistics we've seen above wearing seat belts should be the norm for everyone, parents included. Seat belts are the simplest car safety gadgets available to help protect our children.
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