Dear California, it’s not THAT bad


This week, the Wall Street Journal published a melodramatic article about the trauma of California’s “big kids” who are being forced back into car seats when that state changes its laws on January 1. Instead of “graduating” from car seats at age 6, kids will now be required to stay in either a car seat or a belt-positioning booster seat until they reach age 8 and a height of 4’9″. California’s parents are bemoaning the tantrums they’re anticipating from kids who are used to acting like adults in the car.

But it doesn’t need to be a battle. My home state of Massachusetts adopted this same law in April of 2008, and as the mom of a 9-year-old who is still under 4’9″, I can tell you that it’s really not a big deal. Here are a few things to know that will ease the “pain” of using child safety restraints for older kids.

The law is not meant to torture your kids

4’9″ is not some arbitrary number that means, “Hey, your kids are big now!” It’s the height at which a standard 3-point vehicle seat belt (designed for an adult, not a child) will fit a passenger properly. That seat belt is there to save your child’s life in the event of a crash, and if the belt is not sitting in the right spot across the hips and shoulder, it can not only fail to protect your child, but it can also cause additional injuries. The booster seat raises your child up so that the belt hits all the right spots.

Booster seats don’t need to be a pain in the you-know-what (literally)

My two older kids, ages 7 and 9, use Clek Olli booster seats, and they’re actually both dreading the day they need to give them up. The foam cushioning is so much more comfortable than the actual seat of the car. And the added height means that they have a great view through the car windows. The new Bubble Bum is another compact belt-positioning booster seat that kids like – it’s fun-looking and comfy.

Involve your child in choosing a booster seat, if possible, since that will help to keep them agreeable from the start. In general, a backless booster will feel like more of a big-kid seat. Plus, you can tell your child truthfully that these seats are ONLY designed for bigger kids.

Talk to your children

Kids like knowing they’re protected. If they’re chafing at using a booster, explain that this booster seat helps the seat belt do an even better job of keeping them safe when they’re riding in a car. If you’re in California and you’re faced with the prospect of “regressing,” you should also explain that laws are there to protect people, and when laws can be changed to protect people even better, that’s a very good thing. Tell your children that you didn’t know before how important it was to be 4’9″ when using a seat belt – you’ve learned something new!

Show them how the seat belt fits on them when they are in the booster seat versus when they are not (point out where it is across their hips and how it lies across their neck and shoulders).

Don’t compromise

That booster seat could be the difference between life and death if your car is in a crash. It’s scary but it’s true. If your child doesn’t want to go to the pediatrician, do you cancel the appointment? If your child insists on playing with a sharp knife, do you let him do it and hope for the best? No. As parents, we can’t always accommodate our kids’ preferences, especially when those preferences compromise their safety. If they know you aren’t going to back down, they’ll stop arguing.

Set an example

My kids are seat belt fanatics because my husband and I will not move an inch in the car without our own seat belts fastened. They’ve never known seat belts to be anything but a mandatory part of being in a car. So when I tell them they need to be in a booster seat until they’re 4’9″, they know that it’s no joke. Being serious about seat belts doesn’t make you a helicopter parent.

Note: The picture here was taken of my kids mugging for the camera. They weren’t referring to their booster seats, but rather to each other. Still, it made an appropriate shot for this post.

Sheri Gurock

About Sheri Gurock

Sheri is an entrepreneur and mother of three living in Brookline, MA. Together with her husband, Eli, she owns Magic Beans, a toy and baby gear retail business with five stores in the Boston area. Sheri is the editor of Surprises, a Magic Beans publication about parenting, kids, gear and toys, and she’s been blogging for Magic Beans since 2005.

Sheri discovered Mothering Magazine almost 10 years ago on the recommendation of her Bradley Method teacher, and is thrilled to be a contributor to this site.