10 car seat safety tips from an expert. Some of these might surprise the most seasoned parent.

Did you know that car accidents are a leading cause of preventable death for children between the ages of 1 and 13? That's a fact.

But we can keep our kids safer by installing and correctly using car and booster seats. And before you roll your eyes and say, “Yeah yeah. Been there, done that," you need to hear what pediatrician Dr. Alisa Baer, also known as The Car Seat Lady, has to say:


“Studies show that even for parents who are on their fourth kid, car seat installation is one of the few things that people tend not to get better at."

This can truly be a matter of life and death, so buckle up — metaphorically, of course — and take a few minutes to read about these ten extremely important tips from Baer.

1. Keep the car seat straps snug.

Image by NHTSA.

“Most kids are riding around with straps that are too loose," Baer says. Properly secured snug straps, despite protests from some kids, don't cause pain. “If you're going to jump out of an airplane with a parachute, you're not going to think, 'Oh, it's snug! Let me loosen it!'" she explains.

Think of the car seat straps the same way. If you need guidance on how to ensure the straps are snug, check out this video. Also be sure to remove any bulky clothing. Things like winter coats usually make it necessary to loosen straps — which in turn makes them far less effective.

2. Keep kids rear-facing for as long as possible.


Image by NHTSA.

Once your child outgrows an infant car seat — which is always rear-facing — they'll move into a convertible car seat. Those can be used either in a rear- or forward-facing position. But “can" and “should" are two different things. Baer says you should always keep your child rear-facing until age 2 — and ideally longer, until they reach the rear-facing limits of the car seat. That shouldn't happen until your kiddo is at least 2 years old, but even then, if they're below the maximums for the car seat, don't flip them around!

A common misconception among parents is that there's a greater risk for leg injuries in the event of a crash in rear-facing car seats because it appears as though a child's legs are scrunched up. Baer assured me that kids are actually at a greater risk for leg injuries when they're forward-facing because in an accident, their feet make contact with the seat in front of them, which is simultaneously moving backward. The result is a compression injury, something that doesn't happen when the child is rear-facing.

“The leg injuries we see when a child is rear-facing are usually due to a direct impact from the intruding vehicle. At that point, it doesn't matter which way your child is facing," says Baer.

3. When your child becomes too big to rear-face, keep them as safe as possible when forward-facing.

Image by NHTSA.

“The goal now that we've turned your child forward, which makes their brain and spine less safe than when they were rear-facing," says Baer, “is to keep them as safe as we can." You can accomplish that by using the tether strap that comes on every single forward-facing car seat sold in the U.S. The tether secures to a top tether anchor point in your vehicle. This is where you'll need to break out that vehicle owner's manual to find where they're located. Since 2000, all vehicles sold in the U.S. are required to have anchors where you can secure the tethers in at least three seating positions. Got a minivan or SUV? Most of these vehicles do NOT have tether anchors in all the rear seats. Find the tether anchors and always use them for forward-facing car seats.

“Forward-facing protection is greatly enhanced by the tether," Baer explains. “It decreases how far the child's head moves in a crash by at least four to six inches. When you factor in that most seats are too loose, that can mean a difference of 12 inches or more." Because you only want your child's head to hit air in a crash and not the seat in front of them, the tethers on forward-facing car seats are vital.

Image by NHTSA.

LATCH can be confusing. It stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. LATCH is comprised of both parts on the car seat and parts in the vehicle, Baer explains. The government requires all vehicles model year 2003 and newer in the U.S. to have at least two seating positions with lower anchors and at least three positions with tether anchors. The lower anchors are meant to replace the use of the vehicle's seat belt. Most car seats (not booster seats, but actual car seats that have a five-point harness system) can be secured to the lower anchors in vehicles by using the LATCH belt on the child's car seat.

Illustration by The Car Seat Lady, used with permission.


Baer emphasized that no matter how you install the forward-facing car seat — whether with a seat belt or the lower anchors — you should always use the tether. “If you're forward-facing seat is installed with the seat belt, use the tether in addition to the seat belt," she said. “If your forward-facing seat is installed with lower anchors, use the tether in addition to the lower anchors."

So, one more time, because it's that important: Always use the tether on every forward-facing car seat!

4. Don't start using a booster seat too soon — and don't stop using a booster seat too soon.

Image by NHTSA.

For a child to safely use a booster seat, they must be at least 4 years old, weigh 40 pounds, and be mature enough to sit properly in the booster — “no slouching, no leaning over, and no playing with the seat belt." Because of that, Baer says that most kids are generally around 6 years old before they're ready for a booster seat.

When it comes to letting kids dump their booster seats, Baer notes that many parents are doing it too soon. “The goal of a booster is to keep the belt property positioned on a child's body, specifically so the lap belt stays in position on the child's lower hips during a crash."

Baer says that there's a pattern of injuries resulting from children being in accidents while not in booster seats that, while not always fatal, are life altering — things like lower spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis and bladder and bowel injuries.

The way to prevent those? Keep your kiddo in a booster until the seat belt fits exactly the same without the booster as it does with it. (Check out the five-step test for guidance.) Most kids are 10 to 12 years old before they can ride safely without a booster.

5. Make sure everyone in the car is buckled up.

Besides keeping all of your adult passengers alive, ensuring everyone in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt means they can't become human torpedoes in the event of an accident. “Studies show that if an adult rides in the back without a buckle, the other people in the car are up to three times more likely to die in the same crash because the unbuckled adult is now a human missile," says Baer.

That sounds rather gruesome — and that's because it is. If a car seat is covering a seat belt buckle, for example, reinstall the car seat so that the buckle is available for the adult. It's about everyone's safety.

6. After you install your child's car seat, have it checked by a trained technician.

Image by NHTSA.

While many people think they can swing by a fire or police department to accomplish this, “not even 50% of them have someone trained" to do that, Baer says.

Instead, go to seatcheck.org, where you can enter your zip code to find a trained technician near you.

7. Remember that the center seat is generally the safest spot in the car for kids.

Image by NHTSA.

Children in the center seat won't take a direct hit in an accident, and there's less to hit their head on when they're in a forward-facing car seat. If you have more than one child, remember that your oldest is typically the least protected. “A newborn, for example, is more protected because they're rear-facing," Baer explains. The middle seat often doesn't have the lower anchors, which means you'll need to use the seat belt to secure the car seat (or if your child is in a booster, they'll be using the belt anyway). And remember: If your kiddo is in a forward-facing car seat, use the tether!

8. Don't text or talk on the phone while driving.

“We're not going to make a dent in fatalities until we decrease distracted driving," Baer notes. “We have an obligation to make sure not only our children, but everyone else's children are safe on the road."

9. Car seats expire!

It's not that the car seat industry is out to get your hard-earned cash, Baer says, but rather that "car seats are made of plastic, and plastic is a material that gets brittle with age. You need a seat to be strong enough to withstand an crash." Different car seats have different expiration dates, although they typically last six to eight years. Be sure you know when yours needs replacing — particularly if you're using it with more than one child.

Speaking of which, be sure to put a lot of thought into borrowed or hand-me-down car seats. You should never buy a used car seat online. If you're going to share with friends or use it for more than one child, infant seats that are in good condition are better candidates for sharing than convertible car seats or boosters, which are used for longer and generally experience more wear and tear.

10. If you've been in an accident, there's a good chance that your car seat needs replacing.

Image by iStock.

This holds true regardless of whether your child was in the car seat when the accident occurred because even an empty seat still absorbs some of the force of the crash. Baer says most manufacturers advise that the car seat requires replacement no matter the severity of the crash, but some seats have a “minor crash protocol." You can check her website to learn more.

The top three most common mistakes Baer sees are car seats that are too loose in the car, kids that are too loose in the car seats, and children who are graduated too soon (from rear-facing to forward facing or car seat to booster, for example). With some effort and care, we can all avoid those mistakes and more. It's a lot of info to absorb, but we're talking about our kids' lives.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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