It’s hopefully common knowledge now that rear facing in the car is the safest way for toddlers to ride. As a child passenger safety technician, I’ve heard all the reasons that parents choose to forward face too early, and I’d like to provide some answers to those car seat myths here. Hopefully, this guide will help keep your child rear facing as long as possible!
Myth #1: My child is too big!
The lovely young lady pictured here is 28 months old and in the 90th percentile for both weight and height at 33 lbs and 37″ tall. She is happily rear facing in a Safety 1st Complete Air, which has a limit of 40 lbs or 40″. She should easily make it another year comfortably rear facing in this seat.
There are many other seats on the market she would easily fit rear facing in, many (including this one) which run well under $200. Even a child in the 90th percentile for height or weight can easily rear face past two years old.
This not-so-little is in the 80th percentile for height at 39″ and 3 years old, and carries the majority of her height in her torso – bad news for outgrowing a car seat. But she is still comfortably rear facing in a Graco My Size, and you can see how much growing room she has. This seat allows rear facing until the child’s head is 1″ from the red adjustment handle.
Myth #2: My child’s legs are too long!
This child is 3 years old, rear facing in a Combi Cocorro. His height is average, but he carries it ALL in his legs – at just after his 3rd birthday he’s wearing 4T-5T pants for length (thank goodness for adjustable waists!).
Despite his long legs, he doesn’t seem to care about comfort. He’s completely safe as well: leg injuries to rear facing kids are almost non-existent.
At 4 years old, 34 lbs, and 39 inches tall, this child is perfectly content in her Diono Rainier, despite her long legs. Up on the seat, cross-legged, over the sides — each child sits in the way they find the most comfortable.
Myth #3: My child is SO uncomfortable!
Have you ever found your child asleep in a strange position? Upside down on the couch? Hanging halfway off their bed? Asleep at the kitchen table? Kids do this all the time, and there’s a reason for it – their joints are far more flexible than ours are as adults. Nature intended it that way, this flexibility protects kids when they’re finding their balance, learning to walk, falling off playground equipment. It may seem incredibly uncomfortable to think of sitting with legs crossed or propped up for an extended period of time as an adult, but toddlers and preschoolers just really don’t care.
This little one is 35 months old, weighs 30 lbs and is 36 inches tall in a Cosco Scenera NEXT. She fell asleep safely buckled into her seat rear facing after a morning of vehicle shopping. She’s not uncomfortable at all!
Myth #4: My car is too small!
That’s a 2 seater Porsche. With a rear facing toddler in the back seat. And room for a front seat passenger. Need I say more? There is a car seat that will fit in your small sedan or coupe, I promise. And we CPSTs love a challenge – if your life includes a tiny car that your child needs to ride in, let us help!
Myth #5: My toddler hates rear facing!
The list of things toddlers dislike is lengthy: cereal on the floor, cereal in a bowl, cereal in the wrong bowl, cereal in a bowl at the wrong time, the wrong cereal in the right bowl, the right cereal in the right bowl at the wrong table… the list continues for days. Toddlers are fickle little creatures, full of boundless energy and opinions they can’t always express. Toddlers rarely scream in the car because rear facing is terrible – it’s just as likely they’re screaming because the sky is blue, their cereal was in the wrong bowl at breakfast time, or they just plain don’t like being restrained, regardless of the direction they’re facing. We know that toddlers are exponentially safer rear facing (532% safer from 12-24 months of age Inj Prev 2007;13:398-402 doi:10.1136/ip.2006.015115) and just like you wouldn’t let them run into a busy street because they threw a fit about how fun it is to play in traffic – it doesn’t make sense to compromise their safety in the car just because they throw a fit about being stuck in one place for more than fourteen seconds.
Myth #6: My child gets carsick!
This one is tough, it’s almost not a myth because we know there are a lot of kids that really, truly battle motion sickness. To any parent who has ever reduced the outer pieces of their car seat into a pile like this in order to clean puke from all the crevices: we feel for you. A car sick toddler is still extremely vulnerable to serious spinal injuries from forward facing too early, so we bring you some tips from seasoned vomit-warriors to help make your kiddo safe and less likely to lose their lunch.
- Sea-Bands: available online or in drug stores, these bracelet-like devices use acupressure to help reduce nausea.
- Food: Eat (or don’t eat) before traveling. Some kids who are prone to carsickness do better on an empty stomach, other kids feel better with a small snack in their belly when they’re going for a ride. Figure out what works best for your child and try to plan accordingly.
- Ginger: This natural nausea aid is available in many different forms. Ginger candies may pose a choking hazard for younger children but iced ginger tea is a great substitute and may be helpful for some children.
- Windows: Sometimes the motion out the side window can aggravate or trigger motion sickness. Try covering the window with a cling-on window shade, or encouraging an older child to look out the back window rather than the side windows.
- Car Seat Angle: Always follow the instructions from your car seat manufacturer, but many car seats allow for toddlers to sit more upright. This can be a more comfortable position to reduce nausea while traveling.
If your child is prone to carsickness, consider carrying a lightweight basin with you or placing a towel over the child’s torso to help minimize cleanup if all else fails.
Myth #7: Extended rear facing seats are so expensive!
This kiddo is 2.5 years old, rear facing in a Cosco Scenera NEXT that rear faces to 40 lbs and 40″ and costs under $50. Even a seat like the Scenera NEXT will get most average kids past two years old rear facing. There are several other seat options under $100 that rear face to 40 lbs and 40″ as well. You don’t have to eat beans and rice for six months to be able to afford a seat that will allow for extended rear facing.
Myth #8: My pediatrician said it’s fine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear facing until a minimum of two years of age.
“This best practice results from the need to support the young child’s posterior torso, neck, head, and pelvis and to distribute crash forces over the entire body. Developmental considerations, including incomplete vertebral ossification, more horizontally oriented spinal facet joints, and excessive ligamentous laxity put young children at risk of head and spinal cord injury. Rear-facing CSSs address this risk by supporting the child’s head and preventing the relatively large head from moving independently of the proportionately smaller neck.” PEDIATRICS Vol. 127 No. 4 April 1, 2011 pp. e1050 -e1066
The science is very clear: spinal maturity happens with age, whether a child is 18 months and 20 pounds or 18 months and 30 pounds – their spines are maturing at the same rate and similarly vulnerable to significant injury.
When can my child ride forward facing?
The minimum is age 2, however the ideal is as close to age 4 as possible. We would all be safer rear facing, but the physiological differences in a child lessen the older they get. By the fourth birthday, spinal ossification is far more mature than a toddler’s, and a child’s head is also much more proportionate to the rest of their body and better able to withstand the forces of a crash. For more about the science behind rear facing, check out our blog post: Why Rear Facing, the Science Junkie’s Guide.
Around here we like to say, “when you know better, you can do better,” so hopefully this guide has given answers to any concerns you may have about rear facing. Keep those Littles riding safely – rear facing as long as possible!
Note: we’ve turned off comments for this post. If you have any questions about extended rear-facing that aren’t addressed here, please feel free to post on our Facebook group, our Facebook page, or send us an email.
Originally published in July, 2013. Updated in August, 2016.