Graduation from car seat to booster is a big step for your growing little one. As anxious as you may be to get rid of that mammoth of a car seat, don’t take this step too soon. The five-point harness on car seats provides the best protection for your tot. Children younger than age 4 who weigh less than 40 pounds should be in a five-point harness; children younger than 2 should be in a rear-facing car seat, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. No matter how much your toddler insists he’s a “big boy,” don’t transition until he’s really outgrown his car seat.
No, you don’t get to put the top down on this model, though car seat convertibles do have their advantages. This kind of car seat converts to a booster as your kiddo grows. Convertibles can save you the trouble of finding the best booster when your little guy gets bigger and outgrows the car seat. When he hits that magic 40-pound mark — or whatever the limit of your car seat is — easily turn his throne into a booster. Convertibles usually have the side protection that allows your toddler to doze off on the drive without having his head fall forward.
Boosters with Backs
Boosters with high backs and side wings help protect your child’s head in an accident and also give him a place to lean his head when he finally poops out. For a toddler, look for a booster with a five-point harness; these consist of two shoulder straps, two hip straps and a crotch strap. A booster with a back and a harness will provide the same protection as a car seat, but it will also take up just about the same amount of room, although boosters tend to be slightly narrower than full-size car seats.
Backless boosters aren’t very comfortable if your road warrior still falls asleep in the car on a regular basis. Unlike traditional car seats, the backless booster provides no side support for his head, which will flop forward or to one side when he konks out. While this normally won’t hurt him, it looks painful and could increase the risk of neck injury in a sudden stop. As long as your toddler’s ears are below the top of the back seat, a backless booster is safe to use if he’s outgrown the car seat, according to the website What to Expect.
Although not quite as frustrating as potty training, training your squirmy worm to sit properly in a booster also has its trying moments. If your little adventurer spends his time on the road leaning sideways playing with trucks or toy soldiers on the seat, the booster isn’t going to do its job in an accident. This is one reason to keep him in a car seat with a harness as long as possible — it holds him in place better than the car seat belt does; if the belt isn’t positioned correctly in a crash or sudden stop, it won’t protect him properly. Don’t let your toddler ride in a booster seat until he’s able to sit up straight — and stay there — while you’re driving.