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Car Seat Safety: Telling Someone They’re Doing It Wrong

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As a parent, there is one rule you need to know. Okay, so there are like a million rules, most of which are opposites of each other, but seriously, this is a big one. NEVER POST A PICTURE OF YOUR CHILD IN THEIR CAR SEAT ON ANY OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS. Why? Because chances are, you’re doing it wrong. No, really! Check out these numbers:

And those are just a few statistics regarding incorrect car seat use. It’s pretty likely that if you or someone you know has shared a picture of a child in a car seat, something was wrong with how the car seat was being used. If you’ve ever had a Child Passenger Safety Technician look at your car seats, you know that there are tons of “invisible” or at least not obvious mistakes to make. (I just did this a couple months ago, and I highly recommend it. I learned things I didn’t know about my car seat installation, and was reminded of things I knew, but wasn’t paying attention to, like LATCH weight limits.) Photos, though, tend to catch obvious things like having the chest clip in the wrong place, having the shoulder straps at the incorrect height, a child wearing a puffy coat in the car, or a headrest at an improper height. You know what else those photos do? Leave those who know the car seat is being used incorrectly at a loss for what to say. How do you tell a friend, acquaintance, or friend-of-a-friend that showed up in your news feed (because Facebook wants us all to be stalkers) that they’re making a potentially dangerous mistake—without being an insufferable jerk?

  1. Be subtle. If you’re worried about any potential confrontation, especially online where our best intentions don’t always come through our typed words, you can share an article or several about car seat safety. Or share a link to a useful Facebook group like The Car Seat Lady. I’ve never had anyone (except the CPST whose advice I asked for) correct my car seat use; everything I’ve learned has been something I read at a reliable source, most of which I was made aware of via social media. You could even lead your post with something like, “Check out what I just learned!” Even if it’s not totally true.
  2. Do it in private. If you’re able to talk face-to-face or on the phone with your friend, that’s best. At the very least, though, talk to them privately in a direct message or a text. Yes, it’s likely that others besides your friend can benefit from the information, but it seems more like you’re sharing knowledge and less like a call-out if you keep between the two of you. Leave it up to your friend to share what they’ve learned after you talk.
  3. Be direct. Was the photo from someone you see regularly? When you’re together next, just flat-out say, “Imogene, we have got to talk about this car seat!” Show your friend what needs to be fixed, and then help them fix it—even if you need to read the manual together to make it happen. This is particularly effective if you’re usually a direct communicator. Talking to your friend just as you normally would rather than hesitantly bringing your concerns up or beating around the bush makes the conversation a non-issue. If you’d tell a friend the pants they just tried on aren’t flattering, you can handle this, too.
  4. Use a go-between. In a situation where the photo is from a friend-of-a-friend, it might we less…weird if you let your friend to the talking. “Hey, Brigid! I noticed your friend Wilfred posted a picture and in it the kid’s car seat is being used wrong. Would you mind passing on a message for me, just in case it’s a mistake they’re not aware of?” It might come across as pushy, but it’s likely that your friends are well aware of your passion for car seat safety, eh?

And, hey, can we make a deal? No shaming. Like I said earlier, there are a ton of “rules” when it comes to parenting. It’s easy to shame someone, intentionally or not, just because their choices are different from yours. Using a car seat safely isn’t a choice like breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, or pureed baby food vs. baby-led weaning. It’s about the child’s real, actual safety and possibly the child’s life. Share information, don’t lecture. Let your friend know how to fix the problem, don’t chide them for not knowing there was a problem in the first place. We’re all one big community of parents and, for safety’s sake, we’ll act like one.

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Bee C

Friday 12th of May 2023

What if they refuse to accept that they are incorrectly buckling the seat and claim the retailer showed them them the proper way, but the chest buckle is down by their belly button.

Ali H.

Sunday 7th of January 2024

@Bee C, I know it's late, and it's pretty harsh, but there might be some crash test dummy videos you could find showing how that will turn out to compare the two potential outcomes. Warning though- they can be pretty upsetting to watch even if they are just dummies, but I stopped having to nag my husband about removing coats and loosening the straps so much. (although I had the opposite problem and had to convince him it's ok to leave a tiny amount of wiggle room for a couple weeks after that).

Could also make a sort of bet to convince her get it checked out- If I'm wrong, I'll never mention it again/buy you dinner at that place you like/clean your kitchen, and if you're right

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