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The Magic of Children’s Bath Time

Last updated on April 4th, 2022 at 07:44 pm

Rubber-duckyOne of the loveliest videos I have ever seen is of baby Sonia receiving her first bath. I get teary just watching it as I remember the first baths I gave my beloved babies. Just as with baby Sonia, they were so relaxed, so calm, so utterly at peace. It made perfect sense to me then, and now. After all, a baby has spent 9 months floating in liquid in a warm and safe environment. How comforting to be back in familiar territory. It’s a feeling that we keep our entire lives.

As parents we tend to forget how important and soothing water is, not just for babies, but to toddlers, teenagers….and adults. Why, just the other day my 11-year old son took one look at my frazzled face and said, ‘maybe you should take a lavender bubble bath tonight’. (That is code in our house for ‘the pin has been pulled on the mom-grenade, we need to minimize collateral damage).

As winter extends, think about extending bath time in your house. Take inspiration from Sonia’s bath. Water gently poured over the face and head, a peaceful environment, a loving touch. Maybe add some bubbles as your child gets older. (I swear by l’Occitane Foaming Lavender Bath – the lavender calms everyone immediately and promotes a restful sleep. It’s pricey, but half a capful gives plenty of bubbles so the bottle lasts a long time). By all means, add some fun bath toys. A simple cup or a few pieces of Tupperware can mean hours of pleasure or Amazon has a huge selection of creative toys. For your teenagers, try not to rip your hair out at the hours spent in the bathroom and the piles of towels on the floor. Remember, calm and in control is good, and if water dampens the hormonal flames, maybe it’s worth the short-term aggravation.

The other bonus? Bathing as a positive introduction to water eases the way for swimming classes, which keeps your child safer in the water their entire life. Naturally you should NEVER leave a child unattended in the bath, not even to run into the other room for a clean diaper. Remember, drowning can happen in 2 minutes in under 2 inches of water. Just as important, young siblings do not make good babysitters when water is around as they don’t understand that little brother or sister lying in the water is not a problem, or maybe they put them there in a moment of conflicted feelings, not knowing what could happen.

Looking for further inspiration for bathing? I recommend that all-time classic, Ernie, singing ‘Rubber Duckie’.

p.s. As I listened to the video my golden retriever, Neptune, came rushing into my office with his ears cocked and a look on his face that said ‘Duck??? You have a DUCK???!!!’ It’s true, everyone loves bath time, especially with Rubber Duckie.

STOP! You’re Stressed, But Please Don’t Shake A Child

Last updated on May 4th, 2020 at 11:48 am

The day dawned at 6:00 a.m. with a diaper change and feeding. You were up several times through the night either changing, feeding or both. You are still trying to get used to having a newborn in the house- trying to get used to not sleeping through the night. A good solid night’s sleep sure would be welcomed. The first couple of weeks you were able to catch a nap in the afternoon and that helped. Lately though it seems the baby is crying most of the afternoon and evening. It is just after lunch and it is finally quiet- perhaps time for a few precious moments of sleep. God please just a few moments sleep. Your eyes close and sleep begins to take over.

The screaming starts from the crib next to you- startling you awake. God all I wanted was a little sleep- is that too much to ask. Yesterday she cried for four straight hours. She just could not be comforted- she just would not STOP. “I can’t go through this again today.” Desperation rises- so too does anger. With just a few steps you are at the crib…the screaming seems louder…you pick up your baby…the anger grows…the desperation…with tears streaming down your face… you would do anything to get the crying to stop…you cry out, stop…please stop…why won’t you stop crying.

Your anger, your fear and your tone are reflected in the baby. The crying gets worse, grows louder, more shrill. Barely aware of your actions you begin to shake your precious child.

STOP-Don’t Do It.

Shaken Baby Syndrome is the name given to a variety of signs, symptoms and behaviors. Shaking a crying child can lead to blindness, lethargy, permanent developmental disability, seizures and death. Shaking a baby is a crime. It may be inflicted by males or females though most often by males. All babies cry and understanding this is often helpful. That a baby cries does not equal bad parenting- not even unrelenting seemingly inconsolable crying. In the past such crying has been called colic. To many, colic sounds like a disease or an illness and the name does not lead to understanding. Now many are referring to this as the PURPLE period. The PURPLE period may begin at 2-3 weeks old and may last until 3 or 4 months of age.

PURPLE stands for:

P: Peak of Crying- again perhaps beginning at 2-3 weeks and lasting till age 3-4 months

U: Unexpected and you don’t know why

R: Resists Soothing

P: Pain like face- appearing as though they are in pain though they really are not

L: Long lasting- perhaps up to 5 hours in one day

E: May cry more in the late afternoon or early Evening.

Many hospitals are providing training to new parents on crying as well as methods to manage both the baby and the stress. They are also providing education about the dangers and hazards of shaking a baby. There are many ways to cope but when the stress and frustration get to the level where an injury may occur:

  • Take the baby to a grandparent or responsible neighbor. *Understandably during the COVID-19 quarantines this is more difficult, so…
  • Get away – walk out – even if it just outside the door. It is better to move out of earshot than it is to harm the child.
  • If you are a grandparent, friend or coworker of a new parent let them know you are willing to help or at least, that you are willing to listen. If you are a parent yourself- tell them you went though some pretty bad times- help them understand they are not alone. Look into hospitals that offer training and education on crying and shaken baby syndrome. Talk to your pediatrician, obstetrician or personal doctor.
  • Here are some additional things you can do to help you relax and get rid of your frustration and anger

Take action before tragedy strikes.

For more information please go to:

Little One is on the move!!! Uhhhh….where’s the dog???

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:49 pm

Baby Boy Playing with toy as puppy watchesThis is such an exciting time… and an exhausting one. You “safely introduced your dog to your new baby’ and established some guidelines to keep everyone safe (see ‘Your New Baby Safely Met Your Dog … Now What???) and so far everything has been going really well. Your baby is growing by leaps and bounds… and learning something new every day. But just as you started to get the new routine down pat, Mother Nature throws a monkey wrench into this perfect dynamic .Your child’s rate of development seems to be at warp speed, and before you know it, they have learned to crawl. In the blink of an eye they’ve gone from a very slow lobster crawl, to moving faster on hands and knees then you can on two feet! You just can’t seem to catch them! But there is a potential danger here…. The dog can… with ease!

As I did in my last article, I feel it is important to give you some insight into the dog’s mind, and also ask some very thought provoking questions to you, and then offer some ‘canine behavior’ awareness in more detail afterwards.

  1. What is the difference, in a dog’s mind, between a baby that ‘runs’ on all fours, and a pup that does the same thing, other than one has no fur or tail?
  2. How does the dog know the difference between baby’s toys and theirs? Both of their toys seem to be either hard plastic, soft plastic, or plush (stuffed).
  3. What sets off the ‘chase instinct’ in a dog?

So the answer to the first question is pretty obvious…. There is no difference in the dog’s mind. This is why it is so important that YOU teach them that there is a difference. When a pup wanders off, the mother dog picks them up by the scruff (the extra skin) on the back of their necks to bring them back to where they want them. So for this reason, it is important to still monitor their interactions, and make sure they are never alone together.

One of the things I teach my customers with infants is to really accentuate the “DOWN” command whenever they are around the baby. Now I do realize that some people say “DOWN” when a dog jumps on them, but I am referring to them physically lying down. (I often recommend to my customers to use the words “OFF” when a dog jumps, and “DOWN” to lie down, so they do not get confused.) This is especially important for two reasons: To make sure baby doesn’t get knocked over and hurt, but also, it helps to focus your dog. Dogs cannot multi-task; they can’t focus on your command and on the baby at the same time.

To teach “DOWN” first get your dog into a “SIT” position to start. Then, hold a treat between your thumb and pointer fingers, hold your palm facing the floor, and slowly lower your hand towards the floor, keeping the treat right in front of their nose. If they lose interest and look away, bring the treat back up to eye-level to re-capture their attention, and do it again, all the while saying, “DOWN” until they are fully lying down, and then tell them, “YES! GOOD DOWN!” and give them the treat.

I recommend that you practice this often, so when you give him the DOWN command and he is around the baby, he knows the command is not a suggestion or a request, but a direct order from his superior that must be obeyed immediately. To explain the importance of practicing this regularly, I ask my customers, “Why do they run fire drills in schools for the kids?” Because they don’t want to wait until a true emergency actually breaks out and ‘hope’ that the kids will know what to do! Think of how relaxed you will be if you know without a doubt that if you tell your dog ‘DOWN” he will do it immediately.

The second question is a bit trickier, but is important because for most of us, the saying “Possession is 9/10ths of the law” holds true. But to both dogs AND babies, possession is ten-tenths of the law. It can be potentially very dangerous for a baby to see a toy, assume it is theirs, and go to grab it… especially if it is in the dog’s mouth! The simplest solution would seem to be to keep the dog’s toys in one room, and the babies’ toys in another, but in reality, I have never found that to work. The baby goes through house with toys in their hand, and deposits them everywhere and anywhere, and the dog does the same in their mouths. At times, I arrive at a customer’s house, look around at the hundreds of toys scattered everywhere, and wonder if I myself could distinguish which toys belong to which species!

One trick I have given a few families that seems to work very well is to dip the toys belonging to the dog in some bullion soup. (For stuffed animals, just dip a small corner of it. That is sufficient for a dog’s sensitive nose.) This gives it an added flavor that they love, and they tend to play mostly with those. Just remember to wash and re-dip them weekly…. You don’t want them to get stinky or to attract bugs. Another option is to get a wire rimmed basket for the dog’s toys and a toy chest for your child’s toys. Make sure the right toys go in each basket every night before bed, and get into that routine. When your child is a bit older, and can understand a bit better, (and no longer puts everything in their mouths) you can use a black magic marker to mark your child’s toy.

The final issue… baby moving at warp speed; crawling on all fours, can easily set off the ‘chase instinct’ in your dog. I have two cats. One of my cats is never bothered by the dogs… they never chase him. However, the other one is always being chased. Why is this? Because my male cat does not get nervous or scared by the dogs, and if they look or bark at him, he ignores them… so they leave him alone. My female on the other hand, gets scared and goes to run away… and the same dogs that ignored my male cat, go chasing after her. So how do we combat this? By reinforcing earlier commands with the dog… “GO TO YOUR PLACE” and “DOWN/STAY” are important ones to really enforce, but you can also add a new one: “IGNORE.”

To teach IGNORE, get your dog on a leash, put him in a down/stay position, and have someone roll a ball in front of him. If he goes to give chase, give a quick and firm tug on the leash and say, “IGNORE”. Do this a few times until he is completely non-reactive, and then either treat and praise, or play and praise with one of HIS toys. (I want to point out that at this point your baby is copying everything you do… so please remember, you’re “rolling the ball” to the dog… not throwing it. The last thing you want are items going airborne at your dog!)

In the end, adding a few new commands to your dog’s routine (and a few new tricks for you to try) is a great way to both make sure he behaves appropriately around your little one, and also make sure he continues to get the attention and mental stimulation he needs. Happy dog…happy baby…safe home.

So I will wrap this post up a bit differently from my last ones… and ask your input. Apparently, I stumped some of the best trainers in the world by asking for their input on how they go about distinguishing a kid’s toy from a dog’s. So I would love to hear from those of you who have raised your kids (and your dogs) already through this stage…how did you successfully keep the toys separate???

Your New Baby Safely Met Your Dog … Now What???

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:52 pm

So you followed the guidelines I wrote to “Safely Introduce Your Dog to Your New Baby“, maybe added a few of your own ideas, everything went so well, and your dog seems pretty well adjusted to the baby’s arrival… but what can you do to ensure this relationship remains solid for the next several years, so they grow up and stay best friends? There are actually a few things you can do….starting with:

Canine etiquette.

happy-mom-baby-petting-family-dogIt is not only important to teach your dog to accept the change in his life and be well behaved around the baby… it is also important to teach your baby what we refer to as ‘canine etiquette’ around dogs.

What is ‘canine etiquette’? Canine etiquette is teaching the baby from a young age what is okay and not okay to do around your dog. Before I go too far – the most important thing…. NEVER leave baby alone with the dog. I don’t care how wonderful they are together, or how well your child has learned canine etiquette. I touched briefly on how dogs rely on instinct in my last post, but I would like to get into it a bit more. When a dog (or any animal for that matter) feels nervous or threatened in any way, they are not capable of recognizing a helping hand in that moment, and can easily strike out at anything around them when they are afraid. Has your dog ever gotten their paw stuck, and nipped at your hand when you were trying to help them? All they know, in that instant, is they are in pain.

My Mom used to tell the story of the very calm collie mix we had when I was a baby named Nosie. I was a very hyper child, and one day when he was sleeping at the top of the stairs, I flung myself onto him to give him a hug, and he went flying down the stairs. Going forward, when he heard me coming, or when I called him, he took off and hid. What we didn’t know back then was how lucky I was that our dog’s reaction was to run and hide when he saw ‘the threat’ (me) coming instead of reacting aggressively.

When you are holding your baby and they grab your hair, it hurts! Well, it hurts the dog too. The difference is, you can rationalize that the baby is not meaning to hurt you. You also have two hands; you use one to hold their hand, while you use the other to disentangle your hair from their grasp. And as you probably know, it is not a simple task! They have an amazing grip at that young age!! Dogs do not have two hands to accomplish this task, and they also don’t understand why this baby hurt them. A dog does not want to be around something that consistently causes pain. You may be reading this and thinking “But the baby doesn’t know any better! They don’t mean to pull the dog’s hair!” And you are absolutely right. But they can learn by consistency, just like the dog can. So when the dog approaches you and the baby, you take the baby’s hand and make long strokes along their fur. (Many parents coo “Nice Doggy” as they do this.) You are holding the baby’s hand and constantly moving it, so they do not have the chance to grab a hunk of hair. Now your dog associates your baby as gentle and loving, and learns to enjoy the baby’s company.

Baby Gates (AKA Puppy gates)

Many new parents make the common mistake of thinking they do not need to put the gates up until baby is mobile. And some of you may have put gates up when your dog was a pup, but have not needed them in years. Even if your baby is not mobile, your dog is. There are many interactive newborn toys to keep baby’s attention that feature a mat that you put on the floor to lie them down on, and a mobile that they look up at. These are great toys to stimulate their senses, seeing, touching, etc. But if the dog is on the move, this is a potential recipe for disaster. Remember, dog and baby should ONLY be together when you are there to supervise.

Respect and Dominance

One thing I explain to all of my customers is about being the “Pack Leader”. There are certain actions that a dog takes as submission, and these are things to be aware of between your baby and dog. Your baby will not always be a baby, and there must be a certain level of respect that your dog needs to learn. Your dog needs to see and respect your baby as a small human, not as a weak and helpless creature; and definitely not as puppy that is theirs to correct. How does a dog correct a puppy? With growls and little nips; which are harmless to a puppy, but not so to an infant. I am going to give you a few insights into the dogs mind, so you can understand this dynamic a bit better, which can help you to avoid these situations.

Eye contact: In the wild, the dominant dog (or pack leader) will perceive it as a threat when a member of the pack stares them down. They will go nose to nose with them and the leader NEVER looks away first. When the pack member looks away, they are showing their submission to the leader, and the dominant dog ‘wins’ the battle and maintains their role as leader. Babies tend to ‘stare’ at everything. This is how they are learning their environment. Now, since a baby’s attention span is short, they will stare at the dog for a few seconds, and then with a jerky type of movement, look away. So back to my example of in the wild, how did the dog perceive the baby’s dead-on stare and then baby looking away? – Dog has “won” – they are the leader.

You can easily shift this dynamic so your dog still sees your child as “the leader”. While you are holding the baby, be aware. When the baby stares at the dog, and you see they have caught direct eye contact, calmly shift baby up to your shoulder so the baby’s back is to him. You’ve accomplished two things: the baby didn’t show submission by “looking away first” plus – added bonus – your child has turned their back on the dog – something that only a pack leader can do.

Top Dog: In layman’s terms – the pack leader’s head is higher than that of all the rest of the pack, he is always “on top” or above. For this reason, it is important that your baby not be lying on the floor with the dog standing over them. So put up the baby gates if you want to lie baby down on the floor. It may be a bit annoying, but it guarantees the only time your dog is around your baby is when they are up in your arms and their interactions are being monitored – and baby’s head is always higher than your dog’s head.

Add Some New Commands.

Dogs are happiest when they are learning; so now may also be a good time to introduce the command “PLACE” if they do not already know it. For this command, you want to pick a bed of theirs or a mat, and pick a space where they can pretty much see everything. Remember that it is their ‘job’ to keep an eye on things, so you don’t want to put the bed or mat in a corner or area where they are isolated from everything. Use their leash in the beginning if you need to, and walk them to their mat or bed, and say, “GO TO YOUR PLACE” and guide them onto the bed. When they are completely on the bed, give them a treat and praise. Repeat this several times each day until you can say it and they will go there without the leash. Once they are consistently doing it, add the “SIT/STAY” to the command. If you make them sit and stay every time they go to the bed, it will become second nature to them to sit and stay on the bed when told to go to their place. The other positive about this is that everything in the beginning is about the baby, and the dog can tend to feel a bit ‘left out’ and rely on some negative behaviors to get attention. This assures that he will also get some attention from you every day.

At this point you’re probably thinking: “canine etiquette, watch out for baby staring down the dog, keep baby’s head higher at all times… this is all a bit much!” And it’s all on top of dealing with a new infant. But really, what are we talking about? Just a few simple things that will keep BOTH your baby and your dog happy and safe. You love them both…and you want them to be best friends. A few simple guidelines established right from the beginning and you’re setting them up for a lifetime of love and friendship.

I will end this similarly to how I ended my last post….. Why take chances, or leave things to ‘luck’ when just a few simple steps can ensure a great outcome?

Safely Introduce Your Dog to Your New Baby

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:53 pm

Many couples put off having that first child for a number of reasons: To establish their career, to be more financially stable, some want to buy the house first…… But in their desire to nurture ‘something’, many (myself included) choose to get a dog – and the dog invariably takes on the role of substitute child. In my household, we refer to our dog as our ‘son’, and when we talk to him, we refer to each other as ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy.’

But as a professional dog trainer, one call I get quite often is, “We have had our dog for years, and he has always been so good…. Until we brought home the new baby a few months ago. Then his behavior totally changed! I think he is jealous of the baby, and I am afraid for the baby’s safety, I think we are going to have to get rid of the dog.”

How many of us remember the classic Disney movie “Lady and the Tramp”? The scene that always comes to mind for me regarding this subject is when Lady sings, “What Is a Baby?” It actually gives amazing insight into what I, as a trainer, see as the problem.

All rights reserved by Disney – Lady and the tramp (1955)

Prior to the baby coming home, all of the attention and nurturing has been on the dog. If you play the video clip, pay attention to the small things, like how Lady starts off alone downstairs, the lights are off, and none of her people are around. As she climbs the stairs she sings, “They haven’t even noticed that I’m around today”. Then she sees Jim, and gets into a happy begging position… which always got her plenty of attention before, but distracted, he ignores her as he goes down the stairs with the baby bottles. When she arrives at the top of the stairs, she knows her “Mom” is behind the door, but the door is almost closed, and it is the only light on. As she approaches the almost closed door, she sings the last line, “I must find out today, what makes Jim Dear and Darling, act this way.”

So first off, I want to dispel a myth…. Regardless of how it may seem, dogs do not get jealous. This is a human emotion we put on them to explain their behavior. In order to be jealous, there has to be a cognitive thought process…. “They are getting something, I’m not, and it’s not fair!” Sorry folks…. Dogs are just not that complex. For them, it is mostly curiosity…and a somewhat child-like instinct. Like a two-year old they want to be included (“me too, me too”). There are also a ton of new smells, the sound of crying that they are not accustomed to, and let’s not leave out the fact that quite often, as new parents, there is usually a bit of tension when the new baby first comes home. Your dog picks up on this tension, one that was not previously there. Let’s face it….you’ve had 9 months to prepare for this. Isn’t it only fair that you prepare them for this big event as well?

Here are some of the typical ‘bad behaviors’ my customers report to me that their dog is doing…

  • Dog pulls at baby toyJumping up on them when they are holding the baby
  • Nipping at the baby
  • Pulling and yanking on the baby’s clothes
  • Excessive and nuisance barking
  • Growling at the baby
  • Trying to ‘climb’ into their laps while they’re holding the baby, as if the dog were trying to knock the baby off.
  • ‘Pawing’ at the baby
  • Stealing items belonging to the baby

So now, the question becomes “how do you correct these behaviors while balancing a baby in your arms?” The best answer I can give you is not to wait until the baby arrives.

Start prepping the dog in advance for its arrival. Here are some of the ways you can easily accomplish this. Some may feel or seem a bit silly to you, but trust me when I say about 95% of the time, early preparation works.

  1. Get a small box of diapers. Put a few piles in rooms like the bedroom, living room, bathroom, and any other areas you might be typically changing the child’s diaper in the future. A clean diaper has no odor to us, but you better believe it does to a dog that can track a scent for hundreds of miles. This accomplishes two things; it allows your dog to familiarize himself with something that will be around constantly in the very near future, and enables you to correct him if he goes to steal or chew them. If he sniffs it and walks away, this is the appropriate behavior, so make sure you praise him. If he goes to grab it, make a loud noise and in a firm (but not angry) voice say “LEAVE IT!”. If he leaves it alone, praise him.
  1. Get a doll. Get a doll the size of a real-life baby, put a diaper on it, swaddle it, and start walking around the house with it in your arms. As you walk, do the same rocking, cooing and coddling you will be doing for your real baby. More often than not, the dog will get excited and go to jump up and may even go a bit nuts barking. It is important at this moment to remember that your dog is not trying to hurt the baby, but more likely just responding to the same baby talk that you have used on him for the last several years. This is why this practice is so important. Use this time to make whatever corrections are necessary to ensure your real baby will be coming home to a safe environment. With a doll in your arms, you can firmly push him down and tell him, “OFF!” and when he isn’t jumping, tell him “GOOD BOY” and you can bend down to his level with the doll in your arms and let him sniff it. While he is doing that, make sure to tell him, “EASY” and again, praise him.
  1. Sound Effects Another suggestion I offer people is to pull up a sound effect of a baby crying on YouTube, and use your cell phone to record it. The one I have used before is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TjmHkVMEdI. Put the doll down either on a blanket on the floor or in the crib if you already have one set up, put your cell phone next to it, play the recording, and watch your dog’s reaction. More often than not, your dog will just sniff at it out of curiosity. If that is all he does, make sure to pet and praise him. If he goes to nudge or paw the doll, correct him by telling him, “EASY” again. Now lie down on the blanket with the doll and the dog. You will see he feels much less threatened when he is included. Continue working on this for a while before bringing your new baby home, and make sure the dog understands the “rules of engagement”
  1. Once baby is born While Mom and baby are still in the hospital for the first few days, have Dad or whoever is watching the dog bring home the real baby’s unlaundered clothes, and even a few dirty diapers. (Yes, I know this is kind of gross.) Put the clothes that the new baby has already worn on the doll so that the dog can get used to the scent. Praise the dog when he sniffs at the doll in the baby’s clothes appropriately, and if the dog goes to grab at the clothes, make the same correction you made earlier. And let the dog sniff the dirty diaper. These are all scents that the dog must get used to… he’ll be around them for awhile!
  1. dog adjusts to babyHomecoming Day The last piece of advice is if Dad has been home with the dog while Mom was away having the baby, Dad should be the one to bring the baby in. Your dog has not seen Mom for a few days and may be excited to see her and jump up on her. Mom needs to greet the dog when she comes in and spend a minute or two with him, but also correct his jumping.

In closing, just remember…. Your dog does not do well with change, so it is up to you to help him adjust to everything prior to it happening. While I have heard at times, “My dog took right to the baby and they have been best friends ever since” … Why take chances when it is easy enough to ensure a good home-coming with a great outcome.

Photo credit: Wayan Vota; CC license

What You Need to Know About the New AAP Child Seat Guidelines

Last updated on September 16th, 2018 at 02:58 pm

The American Academy of Pediatrics has dropped the age milestone that children should remain rear-facing until age 2, and replaced it with the new recommendation that children should remain in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.

The past decade has seen an incredible dramatic evolution in improvements to child passenger safety. Never-the-less, motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older.

baby in rear facing car seatAccording to Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and chair of the AAP Council on injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, “Car seats are awesome at protecting children in a crash, and they are the reason deaths and injuries to children in motor vehicles have decreased”. However, according to the AAP, what many parents don’t realize is that each transition – from rear-facing to forward-facing, from forward-facing to booster seat, and from booster seat to seat belt alone – reduces the protection to the child.

Using the right car safety seat or booster seat, says Dr Hoffman, lowers the risk of death or serious injury by more than 70 percent.

When a child rides rear-facing, the head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat, allowing the car seat to absorb most of the crash forces, and protecting the most vulnerable parts of the body. When children ride forward-facing, their bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heads – which for toddlers are disproportionately large and heavy – are thrown forward, possibly resulting in spine and head injuries.

According to Dr. Hoffman: “if you have a choice, keeping your child rear-facing as long as possible is the best way to keep them safe.”

Here is what the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending:

  1. Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.
  2. Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the height and weight limits for their seats through at least 4 years of age. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.
  3. When children exceed these limits, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly. This is often when they have reached at least 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old.
  4. When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
  5. All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

One of the most important things a parent or caregiver should do is to read the manufacturer’s manual and labels for that particular car seat to find the correct weight and height limits. When a child is approaching one of those limits, it is time to think about transitioning to the next stage.

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