Car Seat Safety 101: How To Properly Buckle Kids In

buckle kids

Car Seat Safety 101: How To Properly Buckle Kids In

The most important aspect of car seat safety is knowing how to properly buckle kids in. We’re sharing all you need to know about buckling them in here!

Ask any parent – they’ll tell you that their child is their number one priority in any situation.

It’s a no-brainer. You’re nodding along – your child is your number one priority, too.

But,  what about in the car? Is your baby number one in the car, too?

Of course they are!

As comfortable as you are with your car though, do you make 110% certain that your baby is buckled in properly?

There’s more to it than just buckling your kid into the back seat and making your journey to the grocery store, school, or your mom’s house.

So much more.

In fact, 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly

If your stomach just did a flop, you’re not alone.

On the bright side, take comfort in knowing that car seat usage significantly save lives in the event of a car accident.

Now, we just have to make sure they’re installed properly to maximize child safety.

Though these may seem like obvious tips, let’s take a run through Car Seat Safety 101 to make sure you’re as brushed up on your knowledge and skills as you can be so you can buckle kids correctly.

Buckle Up: How to Buckle Kids the Most Efficient Way Possible

Alright class, let’s start at the very beginning before you even get in the car.

Choosing and Using the Right Car Seat

Take a look at your kiddo. Now take a look at their car seat. Is it the right car seat for them? For your car?

If your kiddo is only a bouncing bundle of joy, you should be using an infant car seat to buckle in your baby.

This infant car seat should be rear-facing and use a five-point harness to maximize safety.

You’ll know it’s a five-point harness because it connects in five positions:

  • 2 over the shoulders
  • 2 over the hips
  • 1 connector between your baby’s legs

Even if your kiddo is no longer an infant, you’ll be buckling your child until they are at least 2-years-old in the rear-facing fashion. This is non-negotiable.

When it’s time to change from an infant seat to a larger seat, make sure they pass the measurement check:

  • One inch between your baby’s head and the top of the car seat
  • 22lbs or more

If your child is older than 2-years-old and meets the height and weight rule, it is time to switch to a front-facing car seat with a harness.

Plan on using a forward-facing car seat for as long as possible to maximize your kid’s safety. Typically this means until your child is at least 5-years-old.

If your kiddo is school-aged, you should be using a booster seat so that the seat belt can buckle your child properly.

The backless booster seat will be used until your child can sit comfortably with just a seat belt locking them in place like you or me.

Now, with the car seat guide laid out, think about whether your car seat fits your car properly.

Car seats are also designed with vehicles in mind. Some car seats are better for larger vehicles while other car seats are better suited for smaller vehicles.

Yep, when it comes to secure ways to buckle kids, these things are really kept in mind.

The LATCH System

In 2002, the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system anchors were mandated in vehicles in the United States.

Maybe you’ve heard it called the Isofix system or the Canfix. It’s all the same – the system just has a different name depending on where you live. Isofix is the international name.

Of course, you can still use seat belts to install car seats if your vehicle is an older model and does not come with the LATCH system, however, you’ll need to take care and install with a seat belt correctly.

The LATCH system was designed to make car seat installation easier and correct.

The lower LATCH anchors are in the space where the back seat and seat cushions meet. They are also typically found in the left and right seat positions (AKA window seats).

The top tethering anchor can be found in three different locations:

  • The floor
  • Underneath the seat
  • Rear window shelf

Make sure to read your vehicle manual to discover if your car comes equipped with the LATCH system and where to find these anchoring positions!

Yes, the vehicle manual sucks, but give it a quick flip through so you can buckle kids correctly.

It’s crucial that the top tether is anchored incorrectly as it greatly reduces your child’s forward head movement in the unfortunate event of a crash.

Also, note that infant car seats only come with lower anchors built in. They do not have the same top tethering anchor found on forward-facing car seats.

Make sure that you adjust the LATCH tethers in accordance to your vehicle manual to correctly install your child’s car seat before you buckle kids in.

You’ll know you’ve installed the seat correctly when the car seat is not able to move more than an inch when rocked side-to-side.

Seat Belt Installation

If you are using seat belt installation for your car seat, follow these steps: 

  1. Find the seat belt path as directed in your car seat manual
  2. Feed the seat belt through the designated seat belt path of the car seat and buckle the seat belt
  3. Slowly pull the seatbelt all the way out of the retractor and then let the seat belt slack back into the retractor, making sure the belt is as tight as it will go
  4. Keep doing this until the seat belt is as taught and rigid as possible 
  5. If there is an anchor, make sure to tether the top latch to that anchor

Get That Harness Right

The harness might be something you don’t give much thought to. Beyond the general function to buckle kids in, that is.

While buckling kids is an easy, straightforward process, you want to make sure you do it correctly.


Well, the first step you want to take is to make sure the shoulder strap is lower in position than your child’s shoulders.

This allows the strap to come up and buckle kids efficiently by holding them securely in place.

If you have been buckling in your child with the shoulder straps at shoulder level or higher, this would actually allow your child to slide upward in the unfortunate event of a car accident.

Definitely, avoid using shoulder strap slots above your child’s shoulders.

You can double check the efficiency of how well your child is buckled by using the “pinch test”.

To carry out the pinch test, you would simply pinch the strap of your child’s shoulder strap. If you can gather any of the strap fabric, the strap isn’t as snug as it can be.

The solution is simple: tighten the shoulder strap until it is snug against your baby’s shoulder and you can’t gather any more fabric in a pinch.

Be careful about making your kid’s shoulder straps too snug – we want to keep them comfortable after all!

Hot Tip for Harnesses

This is something overlooked as well. Do not buckle kids with bulky outerwear on. What ends up happening is that the harness straps are not locking your child in place as securely as possible.

If you were to remove all those layers and then buckle your child in, you’d notice the harness straps would be quite loose.

The best idea would be to remove all the bulky wear and then buckle your child in.

I know it can be a pain redressing your child appropriately for the harsh weathers of winter, but this guarantees that your child is as safe as possible in their seat.

This includes pillows and towels behind your child – don’t have any objects whatsoever behind your child’s back against the car seat. Don’t do it. 

Other Things to be Aware of:

Finally, when you actually buckle kids in, keep in mind these other top safety tips: 

  • Make sure none of the harness straps are twisted
  • Don’t rent a car seat
  • Avoid using a used-car seat
  • Secure all loose items in the car, if possible
  • Make sure the clip is properly positioned on your child’s chest between the armpits
  • Read the manual – every car is different and the installation process may differ from car to car
  • Speak with a certified child passenger safety technician so they can show you how to install and use your car seat properly – yes this certification exists

Final Thoughts

Now, all of this that looked like a lot, but was it? Did any of it feel like common sense? Where you nodded along and said “duh” or “of course”? 

The trick is remembering every single one of these details as you go through the motions and buckle kids in. 

This can be difficult when you’re in a rush or if your child is cranky, but if you spend a little extra time making sure your child is as snug as a bug in a rug, they will be as safe as possible, no matter the journey.

Need more advice and tips for child passenger safety? Check our website often!

You can check out our Best Car Seat Buying Guides and recommendations here.


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Last updated on April 3, 2020 7:16 pm