But how bulky is too bulky? How do you test it? And if you ditch the thick jacket, how do you keep your kid warm? Today’s Parent asked Jen Shapka, mom of two and child passenger safety technician and instructor with the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, some of the questions we know you have.
Shapka: Try to pinch a horizontal fold in one of the straps above the chest clip. If you can pinch it and grab it, it’s too loose. If you can sort of pinch it but you can’t grab a hold, it’s tight enough. And there should be no slack in the hip area. People used to say to check if you can fit a couple fingers under the strap. But that’s too subjective, since everyone’s fingers are a different size.
Shapka: No, that’s not realistic. Put your kid in a few thin, warm, well-fitting layers, with no extra bunching anywhere. Adjust the harness so it’s snug against the body and you can’t pinch the straps. That’s how the harness should fit. Now try putting your kid in the seat wearing his winter coat. If you have to loosen the straps to make it fit, then he shouldn’t wear that coat in the car seat.
Shapka: Have your kid wear his coat to the car, climb in, take it off, buckle up, then put it on (backwards). Or use blankets. You can also start your car and warm it up in advance—but I know that’s not always practical. I know it’s cold. Getting kids buckled in without a warm coat on a cold and windy day is a pain. But the alternative is ejection or partial ejection if you’re in an accident. It’s as simple as that.
You can also look into buying car seat-safe layers—they’re thin, down, compressible layers. They aren’t warm enough to play outside for two hours, but they’re great for running errands. Just be careful not to upsize. It should fit close to the body and fit into the harness.
Shapka: Hypothermia is not immediate. The first goal is to survive the crash.
Shapka: Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to have a crash closer to home. I feel strongly that every time you get in the car, you should be prepared to be in a crash.
Shapka: If you feel comfortable, sure. My strategy is I make it light and casual. I’ll say something like, “I just learned this thing—it can be dangerous to…” Play dumb and upsell the positives. Nobody likes to feel judged.