As parents, we must pick our battles. Allowing a child to skip her vegetables one night or to go outside without a coat will not cause lasting harm. Riding without a booster seat could kill or seriously injure a child. Safety must be non-negotiable at all times.
Remember that you are the parent and you are in charge. Your attitude affects how your child views booster seats, and if you are positive and enthusiastic about boosters, your child is more likely to feel that way also. Likewise, if you communicate (verbally or non-verbally) that boosters are for babies or are optional, your child will pick up on these views as well. Riding in a booster seat should not be seen as a punishment. Instead, it should be seen as a normal part of everday life. Involve your child in buckling up and explain to her how the booster seat works to keep her safe. Kids are much more likely to want to ride in a booster if they understand how it works, rather than “because Mommy and Daddy say I have to.”
How to Talk to your Kids about Boosters
The goal of this exercise is to show your child how they fit differently in the vehicle and in the safety belt when they sit on a booster compared to when they are not on a booster. Make sure you understand how boosters work first, before doing this activity with your child.
Have the child point to his shoulder bone (clavicle), chest bone (sternum) and hip bones (pelvis), which are the strong bones where the safety belt needs to rest. Ask the child what the bone feels like – he will typically say it feels hard/ like a rock/ strong/ etc.
Now have your child point to his belly (abdomen) and ask him what this feels like – he will typically say that it is squishy/ feels like a banana/ feels like jello/ etc. Especially for older children, you can explain what is in the abdomen – kidneys, liver, spleen, intestines, stomach, bladder, and the lower spinal cord. If you have an aspiring doctor or nurse, you could get an anatomy diagram and show them.
Ask your child to imagine that you are driving down the road and a puppy runs out into the street. Ask the child what the driver should do – most kids will volunteer “the driver will slam on the brakes.” Ask the child to recall how the safety belt suddenly feels very tight when the driver slams on the brakes (if the child can not recall this, you can buckle the child in and hold the shoulder belt tight to simulate this.)
Ask your child where he thinks is the best place for the safety belt to get tight – on his hard, strong bones or on his squishy belly? Most children will understand that it’s better for the belt to be tight on the bones. The child should now have a basic understanding that the safety belt gets tight to keep them safe and needs to stay on their bones, not their squishy tummy.
Now, take the child out to the vehicle and do the 5-Step-Test with them.
Does the child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?
Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat? If your child has not slouched forward already, ask him to slouch until his knees bend over the edge. Show him that when he slouches the lap belt is on his squishy tummy.
Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and the arm? Have the child point to his shoulder bone and chest bone – make sure the belt is touching there. If the belt is rubbing the child’s neck, the child will be tempted to put it under his arm or behind his back. Show the child that when it is under his arm it is not on his chest or shoulder bone. When it is behind his back he can lean forward so that his chest touches his legs and his head can hit his knees or the seat in front of him.
Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs? Have the child touch the tops of his legs – make sure the belt is resting there. Have the child touch his belly button – the lap belt should be far away from the belly button.
Can the child stay seated like this for the entire trip? Some kids like to squirm and slouch no matter what – and will need to ride in a booster seat to help keep them sitting straight.
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to make both the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right to keep him the safest. If your child needs a booster, repeat the 5-step-test with him sitting on the booster and show him how he sits differently on the vehicle seat and how the safety belt fits him properly now.
When talking to your child, remember to emphasize that by sitting on a booster she will have more fun because:
She can see better out of the window
She is more comfortable
Her knees bend over the edge of the booster – she doesn’t have to slouch
The shoulder belt is properly positioned so it isn’t irritating her neck
She have a place to store small toys/crayons/drinks – many boosters have cup holders built in
When all else fails:
Pick your battles. Safety is a non-negotiable battle that you must win every time. Tell your child that the car will not start unless he is sitting on his booster – and stick to this (don’t turn the motor on until he is properly buckled.) If he unbuckles himself (or places the shoulder belt behind his back or under his arm or does anything else that’s dangerous) during the trip, pull over at the first safe place you can find, and firmly (without yelling and or showing any emotion) tell him to sit in the booster and that the car will not move until he is rebuckled. Repeat as often as necessary.
Positive reinforcement: Buy a pack of stickers that your child would like – and everytime she sits in the booster reward her at the end of the trip with a sticker. Let her place the sticker on the booster, on herself, in a small notebook that stays in the car, a “booster chart” or any other place that will visually reward her. There are other types of positive reinforcement you can use – if your child has a favorite song she likes to sing, promise to sing it with her/play it for her after each car ride when she sits in the booster. (Do not use food as a reward).