Choosing a Booster Seat - Cincinnati Children's Blog

Choosing a Booster Seat

About a month ago, something really big happened in my daughter’s life. Booster seats!

Ok, so not life-altering news, but certainly life-saving and a big deal in her young life – and a surprisingly big deal in my life too.

I would have left her in her convertible seat another couple of years if I’d had that option, but she had grown too tall for it.

She was comfortable in her convertible seat and I liked the safety of it – I did a ton of research before we bought it, it had been professionally checked for proper installation and I was confident that she was riding safely. I liked the idea of her staying in her 5-point harness as long as possible, she was well under the upper weight limit and she wasn’t asking about a booster seat.

But, as soon as I discovered that she’d gotten taller than recommended for that seat, I knew that it was no longer the safest seat for her and decided to put my research hat on again and find a booster in which I was equally as confident as I was in her current seat.

I started with an email to one of the injury prevention coordinators in the Comprehensive Children’s Injury Center to simply ask: What do I need to know about buying a booster seat?

She recommended a high-back booster because they offer more protection and they provide a place for children to rest their heads if they fall asleep in the car. It was also recommended to me that I physically try the options out in a store and have my daughter sit in them to determine which one fit her best and was most comfortable for her specifically.

So, armed with these recommendations, some information from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and the names of a few specific models that I had already researched and knew I wanted to check out, my family set off for one of the big box baby stores that I knew would have a mock “back seat” with seatbelts so we could really try these boosters.

And I am so glad we did that. Three of the seats we tried just didn’t fit my daughter well. In one of them, she physically looked uncomfortable – she couldn’t figure out a way to get her arms comfortable. With another one, the shoulder belt was positioned awkwardly on her.

We ultimately found one that was a good fit and we were able to involve her in choosing the colors that she wanted for each of our family’s two cars. She was downright excited, and literally has been since the day we installed them in the cars. She wants to ride in her booster seats and I hope that lasts for a while, because she’s going to be in them for quite a while. Booster seat laws vary by state, but 48 states require booster seats for children who have outgrown their child safety seats but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely. In Ohio, where my family lives, boosters can be used starting when the child is 4 years old and 40 lbs. (please note though that our injury prevention coordinators recommend a 5-point harness well past 4 years old if the child is still under the weight and height limits of the seat) and must be used at least until the child turns 8 and is taller than 4’9”. You can find information about each state’s child passenger safety-related laws here.

It’s also important to note that there are many seats on the market that convert from a 5-point harness to a high-back booster, and then to a backless booster. Our child passenger safety technicians recommend that children stay in a 5-point harness as long as possible, making this type of seat a good choice for many families. Here are several company’s lineups of harnessed boosters: Britax, Evenflo (click “Harnessed Booster” under Style on the left), Graco, Safety 1st (look for 3-in-1 seats).

Along the way, I also discovered that you have to buckle most booster seats into the car even if your child isn’t in it. Without being buckled, the seat can become a projectile in a crash. Because I do spend a lot of time in the car without my kids, I really didn’t like the idea of having to remember to buckle the seat in every time I got in. I discovered though, that there are a few models on the market that include the LATCH system to secure the seat in the vehicle, thereby eliminating the need to be buckled in. If that is a feature that appeals to you as much as it did to me, look for the models with LATCH when shopping.

In case you’re curious, this is the booster we ended up with. And these are two that we additionally considered: here and here. But, as evidenced by the IIHS list, there are tons of excellent booster seats on the market and the best one for you is truly the one that fits your child, fits your car and that you can use correctly each and every time your family gets into a vehicle!


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Kate Setter

About the Author: Kate Setter

Kate manages social media at Cincinnati Children's, a role that she loves because it gives her opportunities to help families find stories and pediatric health information that they want and need. Kate is the mother of two elementary-age kiddos.

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  1. Amanda Seibert September 30, 12:39
    I'm really shocked that they suggested a booster to you. Yes by law she meets the requirements but most 4 year olds are not mature enough to sit properly 100% of the time in a booster seat, including when they fall asleep. I would've hoped that for such a big hospital with such a HUGE influence on parents would suggest using a 5 point harness as long as possible. Good job on a HBB though and making sure she got proper belt fit.
    • Kate Setter
      Kate Setter Author September 30, 15:51
      Hi Amanda - To clarify, our child passenger safety technicians DO recommend kids stay in 5-point harnesses as long as possible. I've amended the post to make that more clear.