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How to Navigate the Overwhelming World of Booster Seats

As a mom-to-be, you were prepared. You had the convertible car seat that would see your little one through his toddler years. And now? Well, my guess is that this booster seat transition has snuck up on you.

It’s been a few years. You may feel a little rusty and your research skills are out of practice.

So much about parenthood can be hard to navigate, and right now you’ve gotten lost between Graco Avenue and Britax Boulevard. You’re wandering in a dark land without a GPS.

Fortunately, you don’t need a GPS! You have this! A treasure map to guide you from Point A to Point B(ooster seat).

Let’s buckle up and venture out together!

Stop #1: Do Your Homework

Our first stop on the journey to victory is to gather some initial information to help your search.

Check Your Current Car Seat

First, check the requirements of your child’s current car seat. Check the labels on the actual car seat for…

  • Height and weight limits
  • Expiration date

If your child has not exceeded the size restrictions AND the car seat has not expired, he may not need to transition to a booster seat just yet. If that’s the case, hooray! You’re actually ahead of the game! *Fist-bump*

Check Your State’s Laws

Next, brush up on your state’s car seats laws and regulations. If you live in the US, car seat laws vary by state. And if you’re in Canada, they vary by province or territory. Check out this list to see the specifics for where you live.

While your local laws must be followed, they are usually only the minimum requirement. For maximum safety, many car seat experts suggest waiting until your child is at least

  • Five years old
  • 40 pounds
  • Mature enough to sit properly in the seat.

Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends keeping your child in his convertible car seat until he reaches the seat’s top height or weight limit.

Now you’ve got your requirements sorted out, it’s time to consider which booster seat to select.

Warning! It’s easy to drown in this sea of options!

Let me break those many “fishes” into smaller categories for you. (It’s so much easier to make a good decision this way!)

Stop #2: Harness-to-Booster Seats

Here’s one thing we can all agree on: car seats aren’t cheap. And booster seats are no different. So if you really want to get your money’s worth, look for a seat that can pull double duty.

Some car seats can function as a combination car seat first and then transition to a booster seat, which means you’ll get extra mileage (both literally and figuratively) out of it.

These are a great option if you’re still on the fence about whether your little one is ready.

Here are four car seats that transition from combination car seat to booster seat and will save you some pretty pennies.

Click on the links below the graphic to see parent reviews and additional information on each one.

Harness to Booster Car Seats

1. Britax Pinnacle
2. Graco Nautilus
3. Evenflo Maestro
4. Evenflo Chase

Stop #3: Ease-of-Use Ratings

All car seats (that includes booster seats) for sale in the United States are required to meet strict safety requirements set by the federal government.

Since those requirements are so strict, the NHTSA does not rate car seats as more safe or less safe, but by ease-of-use. They use four criteria to determine those ratings:

  1. Evaluation of Instructions pertains to how easily the manual is understood and whether it contains all necessary information.
  2. Vehicle Installation Features examines how easily the car seat can be installed in a vehicle.
  3. Evaluation of Labels evaluates the labeling on the car seat itself.
  4. Securing the Child evaluates not how well the seat will secure the child (as all car seats must do this well), but how easily the child can be secured.

Here are four booster seats that are rated 5 stars in the “Overall” category. This means they rated high in ALL FIVE categories. Impressive!

Click on the links below the graphic to see parent reviews and additional information on each booster seat.

Top-Rated Child Booster Seats

1. Evenflo Big Kid
2. Clek Olli
3. Graco Atlas
4. Graco Milestone

Stop #4: Comfort

Of course your first priority is a safe booster seat for your child, but you also may want to consider how comfortable the seat is. Especially if you spend a lot of time in your car or plan to take a long road trip soon, keeping your child comfortable in the back seat can be the difference between contented sighs or constant screams. (I vote for the first one.)

When searching for a booster seat with some added comfort, look for one or more of the following:

  • Extra padding on the bum and a contoured design to help your child feel snug and comfortable.
  • Cup holders to avoid having to retrieve dropped water bottles. (This is a perk for both you and your child!)
  • Padding around the head, to keep her comfortable as she snoozes on long car rides.

Here are four booster seats that tick at least two of those “Happy Sitter” boxes.

Click on the links below the graphic to see parent reviews and additional information on each booster seat.

Most Comfortable Child Booster Seats

1. Graco AFFIX
2. KidFit 2-in-1
3. Graco Highback
4. Diono Monterey

Stop #5: Narrow Booster Seats

I’d be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a section to finding a narrow booster seat! After all, we can’t all drive Hummers with acres of extra space in the back seat!

If you’ve got three young kids, you’re going to have to consider how to wedge them all in a happy three-across scenario. Depending on your particular vehicle and children’s ages, different combinations will work for different cars.

  • If you need three booster seats, the Diono Radian boasts the ability to fit three-across in most mid-sized vehicles.
  • If you’re looking for a booster to fit around convertible or infant car seats, you may be looking for something will a narrower base to snuggle underneath taller car seats, such as the Maxi-Cosi Rodifix.

Here are four more booster seats that are narrower than 18” across.

Click on the links below the graphic to see parent reviews and additional information on each booster seat.

Narrow Child Booster Seats

1. Maxi-Cosi RodiFix
2. Peg Perego Viaggio
3. Diono Radian
4. Evenflo AMP

Stop #6: Backless Booster Seats

Backless booster seats are inexpensive, portable, and super convenient. This makes them a great option if your child transfers her seat between multiple vehicles.

However, since backless booster seats do not offer any side-impact protection, they are best for older children on the upper end of the height and weight limits for booster seat usage.

Many high-back booster seats transition to backless as your child grows, but if you’re in the market for an backless-only booster, here are three options.

Click on the links below the graphic to see parent reviews and additional information on each booster seat.

Backless Child Booster Car Seats

1. Costco Topside
2. Chicco GoFit
3. Evenflo Amp Lx No Back

Important Note!! For a backless booster seat to fit properly in a vehicle, the vehicle headrest MUST come up to the top of your child’s ears. If your vehicle’s headrests are too low, then you should choose a high-back booster.

Stop #7: Use Your Booster Seat Correctly

Once you’ve arrived at your car seat destination, your first priority should be making sure you use the seat properly.

The NHTSA wants to make it as easy as possible for you to properly install your car seat. They offer installation guides for both high back and backless booster seats, as well as information to convert compatible combination and all-in-one seats to boosters.

But, a properly installed booster seat is only part of the equation for a safe ride.

With a booster seat, comes freedom without that five-point harness, so make sure your child knows how to sit properly in her seat.

She may be tempted to adjust the seat belt out of the proper position or wiggle out of place, but she needs to know she will be safest when she’s sitting properly.

The first several times your child rides in the seat, make sure to remind her of the rules, and soon it will become habit.

Ready, Set, Go!

You’re embarking on a new chapter of your journey.

You can hardly believe your little baby has grown up and is ready to graduate from his convertible car seat.

Just remember: The booster seat search doesn’t have to overwhelm you.

Now that you have a few basic guidelines and suggestions, all that’s left is to think about the best fit for your family and to make sure you’re following safety requirements in the process.

And once you find that perfect car seat for your child, you’ll safely and confidently embark on a whole new world of adventures!

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