Dear Carolyn: I've had people question my car seat-related decisions for my children the last few years. I follow American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, which currently recommend that children be rear-facing until they reach the max weight designated by the seat manufacturer, and remain in a five-point harness until they reach the max weight for their forward-facing seat.
I know several people who think you're "supposed" to turn children forward-facing on their first birthday or transfer them to a booster seat when they turn 4. I don't go around making comments to people who have done these things, but they feel justified in asking me why I didn't. I don't know quite how to respond without in some way saying, "Um, well you're doing it wrong." There are a lot of parenting choices where "right" is subjective, but I am not aware of any debate among experts on this topic.
How can I diplomatically explain that my petite 4-year-old is only allowed to ride in a five-point harness when she's with her aunt and uncle? Their younger child is using a booster seat in violation of our state laws and I don't want to insult them, but I also refuse to endanger my child to keep the peace.
Remember, these practices and recommendations have evolved a lot over the years, from no restraints at all 40 years ago to LATCHing, rear-facing and five-point harnessing. The "right" thing you're doing now can be different from what someone knew to be "right" just a few years ago. So, I think it's more productive to approach it with that in mind, as opposed to taking the "I am not aware of any debate among experts on this topic" tack.
For example, you can respond to people's questions with: "Yeah, car seat rules are a constantly moving target. I use the AAP guidelines." Any further pressure can be dispatched with a rhetorical "We all have to do what we think is best, right?"
As for riding with the aunt and uncle, hold your ground with, "It's about weight and height, not age, and so Pookie can't use a booster yet." And if you get flak for it, a firm "Humor me, please" can go a long way.
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