The latest car seat guidelines to keep your grandchild safe in the car
Do you remember baby car seats from the 1970’s? They weren’t so much designed to keep children safe as to keep them from roaming around the car. By the eighties, safety became the main focus, and by 1986 they were mandatory in all fifty US states and Australia. Canada and the UK did not have universal car seat laws until 2006/7!
Car seats, and the advice about the best way to use them, have definitely evolved since our children were young. For example, it is now recommended that babies be placed in a rear-facing car seat for the first two to four years of life. This provides maximum protection for the head, neck and spine during the years that their developing bodies are the most vulnerable to injury.
If you will ever be driving your grandchild, it’s important to know what the latest recommendations are. Here are some tips that will get you started on the path to safety.
If you want to buy a car seat for your own car, there are safe options available at all price points. Make sure you’ve checked with the parents to confirm you get the right kind for your grandchild’s age and size. Also, not all seats fit safely in all vehicles, so try to test a seat out before you buy it.
Never borrow or buy a used car seat unless you know its history. It may be unsafe if it’s old or has been in an accident. Always check Recalls.gov when buying or borrowing car seats, and check the seat itself for the expiration date. (Did you know they have expiration dates? As they age, parts can become brittle or worn, making them less effective. If you can’t find the date on the car seat, you can call the manufacturer.)
A frightening 59% of car seats are not installed correctly. Proper installation can mean the difference between life and death in an accident. Make sure you read and follow both your vehicle’s owner’s manual and the car seat manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Proper installation is crucial to protecting your grandbaby.
Pay special attention to these four common mistakes:
Install the seat when you are unhurried—not when you first need to get your grandbaby somewhere. It’s not unusual for it to take 30-45 minutes to properly install a new car seat for the first time. Make the effort to search for a YouTube video or guide for your specific seat and car. Websites like The Car Seat Lady and Car Seats for the Littles are great resources. When properly installed, the car seat should move no more than one inch from side to side.
If possible, get a car seat inspection from a certified technician. Find one at nhtsa.gov.
When your grandchild is in the seat, make sure the chest clip is properly aligned: about even with your grandchild’s armpits. If it’s too low, they can be ejected in a crash; too high, and a neck injury can occur. The harness straps should be at or above the child’s shoulders in a forward-facing seat and at or below the shoulders in a rear-facing seat. The harness should be tight enough so that you can’t pinch the strap together at all. Don’t buckle the straps over bulky clothing, coats or blankets.
Don’t let your grandchild eat or drink while they are in their car seat, and avoid toys that could cause an injury if they were to go flying in a crash.
And finally, use the seat every single time. No exceptions.
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Making sure immunizations are up-to-date is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
I found myself needing a new primary care physician when my grandson was about a year old. After a long search I found a doctor who seemed to have all the qualities I was looking for. At our first appointment, she put me at ease immediately as we chatted about why I was looking for a new physician. Then she reviewed my health history, and said with clear surprise, “I don’t see a recent DtaP booster on your record. Didn’t you need one to visit your grandson?”
It had never occurred to me that I should be getting vaccine boosters to protect my newborn grandchildren, and my last doctor hadn’t ever mentioned it. Nor did my son or his wife bring it up, probably assuming I was as boosted as I needed to be. I’ve since learned that getting immunizations is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
Remember, I’m not a health professional and this is not medical advice. Rather, I’m providing this information for you to discuss with your own health care provider.
Why do grandparents need immunizations?
Newborns can’t be immunized from some of the highly contagious diseases for which we have vaccines. At the same time, those diseases are incredibly dangerous in a child that young. The best way to protect them is by making sure the people around them are vaccinated and boosted, so that there is almost no chance they can pass along a preventable illness.
I saw this first hand when my son contracted measles when he was a year old. He wasn’t due for the immunization for another few months, and watching his limp little body fight off a serious disease was frightening. I firmly believe that anyone who is anti-vaccine has never seen their child seriously ill.
Which immunizations do grandparents need?
Here’s a list of the most important immunizations for grandparents. Even if you’ve been vaccinated against some of them in the past, you may need a booster. Talk to your doctor about the following:
TdaP At the top of the list is the TdaP, which protects you and your grandchild from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Since diphtheria is incredibly rare, and tetanus isn’t contagious, the big concern is pertussis. Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is both highly contagious and extremely serious. About half of the babies who contract pertussis end up in the hospital, and the mortality rate babies under six weeks old is over 30%. Some hospitals don’t allow visitors to the birthing wing without proof of current vaccination.
MMR It's also important to make sure your MMR is up-to-date. Measles, mumps and rubella are all preventable illnesses that can have make a baby very sick. Of these, the biggest concern is measles. Though the death rate for measles is low, the potential long-term effects can be devastating: it can cause brain damage, deafness, or a truly frightening disease called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). (Which I’m really glad I hadn’t read about before researching this article, or I would have spent a lot of years worrying after my son had measles.)
Pneumonia & flu You’ll also want to get a pneumonia vaccine for pneumococcal diseases, as bacterial pneumonia in infants is serious and can cause life-threatening infections of the blood, brain and spinal cord. Since bacterial pneumonia is also dangerous for older adults, you’ll be protecting yourself as well. The same hold true for influenza—you are protecting both yourself and your infant grandchild against an illness that can be serious.
Shingles While babies can’t get shingles, they could contract chickenpox from someone infected with shingles. The newer Shingrix vaccine cannot transmit the virus the way the older, live vaccine did, so there is no danger of giving your grandchild chickenpox after being vaccinated.
Covid-19 While Covid-19 has so far shown to be relatively mild in babies, getting this vaccine is important to protect yourself and the rest of your community.
When should grandparents get vaccines?
As soon as you know there’s a baby on the way, you’ll want to check with your doctor about what shots you need. It takes time for your body to build immunity, and some vaccines require more than one dose to provide full protection. Your doctor can go over your health history and make sure you have all the immunizations you need to protect both yourself and your new grandchild.
Protecting our grandchildren is one of our most basic instincts, and getting immunized is an important way to do it. For more information, please speak with your own health care team.
What Else Grandparents Need To Know:
Even positive comments about our grandchildren’s bodies can send the wrong message.
The last time her mother visited, Denise found herself consoling her 7-year-old son over something she’d never expected.
“He was in his room crying, and I asked him what was wrong,” she told a friend. “He said he didn’t want to be fat. I had to run through the morning’s conversation in my head before I realized that Grandma had said he was getting a little chubby. I’m pretty sure she had no idea how much her off-hand remark affected him.”
After assuring her son that his body was just the right size to be strong, healthy and able, Denise had a little chat with her mother. And then asked me to have a little chat with all of you about body image!
WHAT IS BODY IMAGE?
Body image is how your grandchild feels about his or her body. Positive or negative, that image starts to form at a very early age—as young as three years old, according to some researchers. In the early years, the messages they get from the people around them have the most impact on how they view their bodies. Too many comments about their size, weight, or appearance can cause them to base their self-worth on their bodies instead of their abilities.
WHY DOES BODY IMAGE MATTER IN YOUNG CHILDREN?
Poor body image has been linked to low self-esteem, higher chances of anxiety or depression, and eating disorders. In the US, 40-60% of girls ages 6-12 are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. (Smolak, 2011). Over half of 11-16 year olds in UK say they often worry about the way they look. In other words, it’s crucial to make sure they get the right messages in those formative early years. This means what grandparents say matters—a lot.
HOW GRANDPARENTS CAN HELP FOSTER A POSITIVE BODY IMAGE
As children get older, media, social media and peers all have a strong influence on their self-image. Setting a foundation before your grandchildren are exposed to those messages will help protect them when they encounter societal pressure.
Help Kids Feel Confident
Encourage your grandchildren to focus on what their bodies can do, not how they look. This will likely take some practice on your part. We are used to saying things like, “You have such pretty hair!” or “Let me kiss those chubby cheeks!”. Frequent comments on appearance, both positive and negative, create the impression that appearance is extremely important. The first step is to be aware of your own behavior. Pay attention to how often you comment on:
Be A Good Role Model
You can be a positive role model by taking care of your own body, and enjoying what it can do. If you have physical limitations, help your grandchildren understand that they don’t define you. Focusing on your abilities will show them that a person is more than their appearance.
Don’t shy away from being photographed, which sends the signal that you don’t like the way you look. Instead, get in that photo with your grandchild!
Don’t put yourself down. Your grandchildren don’t see your wrinkles or thick ankles as negative unless you grumble about them.
Watch What You Say
In our weight-conscious society, unguarded comments about ourselves or others often send the message that thin is the ultimate goal. Avoid observations like these:
Talk About It
If you hear your grandchild making negative comments about their bodies (or other people’s), see it as a teaching moment. Instead of dismissing their concerns about their bodies, ask them to talk to you. If they say unkind things about another child’s body shape or size, talk to them about why that might be hurtful and help them recognize that child’s positive attributes. There are several quality books for young children about body image--read about our favorites here.
One of the joys of being a grandparent is having a positive impact on our growing grandchildren. Now that you know how much impact your comments can make, what will you do differently?
More Things Grandparents Need to Know
When grandparents understand the reasons behind gender-neutral parenting, it’s easy to support it.
The growing popularity of gender-reveal parties lies in sharp contrast to another growing trend: gender neutrality. While some parents are celebrating the discovery of their baby’s gender and going all in on pink or blue, others are fighting against pigeon-holing their child based on their gender. Like all parenting methods that are new to us, it can be confusing to grandparents as we try to figure out how to respect our adult children’s wishes. Here’s a quick look at what gender-neutral parenting is.
What is gender neutrality?
The goal of gender-neutral parenting is to raise children without enforcing traditional gender roles on them. Note the words “gender roles”. Although there are cases where parents believe a child should be free to choose their gender identity, these are the exception rather than the norm. For most parents who want to raise their child in a gender-neutral environment, it’s an attempt to cast off gender stereotypes and focus on the individual.
Gender-neutral parenting doesn’t deny that there are differences between genders. It doesn’t insist that boys who love trucks have to play with dolls, or that girls who want to wear nothing but sparkly pink dresses have to be forces into jeans and t-shirts. The goal is not to raise a genderless child, but one who has the freedom to develop the skills and traits that will best serve them as an individual.
What are gender stereotypes?
Girls are more nurturing. Boys are more energetic. These are not facts, simply stereotypes that are perpetuated from one generation to the next. Here are some more stereotypes:
Why water safety is important, and how to help your grandchildren be water safe.
Although it’s hard to believe from where I am currently sitting (it’s 42° and raining), summer is just around the corner. Before long, our grandchildren will be visiting and we’ll be spending our days by the lake. Since May is National Water Safety Month, it’s the perfect time to brush up on keeping our grandchildren safe with some water safety tips.
Don’t think you can skip this post if you don’t have a pool, spa, pond, lake, stream or ocean close by. Children can drown in just 2” of water, and children under the age of one most often drown in bathtubs, buckets or toilets. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1-4, and one that can be prevented with some simple steps.
First, children need to be supervised by an adult any time water is nearby. When enjoying the pool, beach, waterpark or lake, an adult should be no more than an arm’s length away from any inexperienced or weak swimmer. However, the vast majority of drownings happen when kids don’t have permission to be in the water or adults are not supervising. Children should be closely watched if there is any possible access to water.
Remember that just being nearby is not the same as supervising. Someone needs to be dedicated to watching the children at all times, without being distracted by their phone or other people. Case in point: I was once in a hot tub chatting with four other adults, and three small children were happily jumping from side to side. We were enjoying our conversation so much that none of the adults noticed when one of the little ones started flailing. Luckily, her four-year-old sister was more vigilant than we were, and hauled her back to safety. This incident made us all realize why water safety is important.
If you do have a pool, hot tub, water feature or other body of water accessible from your property, make sure there are layers of protection in place. This starts inside the house: make sure kids can’t get outside by themselves, whether with locks or alarms or both. There should be a fence surrounding the pool and a cover on the spa, and an alarm on them as well. Make sure drain covers are safety compliant: the suction from a drain can trap even an adult.
Especially if your grandchildren will have access to water at your house, I urge you to take the Red Cross’ free online water safety course for parents and caregivers. From the Red Cross website: “The Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers Online Course focuses on developing an awareness of the risks of drowning and how to minimize those risks, especially for young children. This online course teaches parents and caregivers about the concepts of the circle of drowning prevention, water competency and the chain of drowning survival. It also provides guidance for applying water safety to common environments and situations where children are most at risk for drowning.” I promise it will be a half-hour well spent, whether you have a pool or not.
Teach kids about water safety. Grandparents are perfectly poised to pass on a respect for water. Here are some water safety tips:
Learn CPR. CPR is one of those things you never want to use, but need to know. The Red Cross now offers certification online, making it even easier for you. (Click here for more info.)
Water safety for children begins and ends with the adults who love them. These are just a few water safety tips for kids, but there are more ways to keep them safe. Please take the Red Cross’ Water Safety course and share this post with the other adults who love your grandchildren.
It’s important to know how to keep your grandbaby safe from foods that can cause harm.
Food. It’s the cause of many a disagreement between parents and grandparents. And it’s not just about Grandma sneaking a cookie to Junior before dinner! Dietary choices, feeding methods, food allergies and sensitivities, mealtime philosophies—there are so many issues that grandparents need to recognize.
Breast vs. bottle, baby-led weaning vs. starting with purees or vegan vs. omnivore: Today’s parents usually have strong feelings about how their baby is fed. Grandparents don’t always agree with their methods, but no matter what you think is right, it’s vital that you support your adult child’s decisions.
Unless your grandchild is showing signs of malnutrition, your role as a grandparent doesn’t extend to making decisions about how or when a child is fed. Make sure you know and respect the parents’ wishes about how their child is nourished. If you question what they are doing, learn about their chosen method so you can understand their reasoning.
Grandparents also need to be aware that food can be a safety issue. It’s important to know how to keep your grandbaby safe from foods that can cause harm. We’ve put together some food and feeding safety tips for you as a starting point, but you should always check in with parents to find out what's important to them.
The following food can cause serious illness in babies and should be avoided for the first year of a child’s life:
Honey: can cause botulism, a serious form of food poisoning. Avoid all foods containing honey, including yogurt, cereals and crackers, such as honey graham crackers.
Unpasteurized drinks or foods such as juices, milks (raw milk), yogurt, or cheeses may put babies at risk for E. coli, which can cause severe and life-threatening diarrhea.
Cow’s milk may put a baby at risk for intestinal bleeding. An infant’s kidneys cannot handle the proteins and minerals in fortified milk.
Juice is not recommended for babies under 12 months, as its high sugar content is of little nutritional value.
To help reduce allergies, solid food shouldn’t be introduced until six months of age. While we were usually instructed to introduce foods in a certain order, that’s no longer seen as important for most children.
Once a baby begins eating solid foods, it’s vital to be aware of the foods that are common choking hazards. This list includes:
These, and any other food that could block their airway, could cause choking. It’s a good idea to take a course on what to do if a child is choking, like the one offered here.
The way you feed your grandbaby is as important as what you feed him or her. It’s important to make sure food is cooked and prepared for your grandchild’s developmental stage. They should be sitting upright while eating, not crawling, reclining, or walking. Supervise your grandchildren closely while they are eating, and avoid giving them food in the car or stroller where you can’t see them at all times.
Being a prepared grandparent is the best gift you can give your grandchildren. While no amount of preparation can prevent all emergencies, knowing what the risks are is an important first step.
Want to join the club of truly prepared grandparents? New Grandparent Essentials contains more ways to prepare, including a guide to talking with parents about how you can support their feeding choices.
Do you remember when your baby was born? The doctor or midwife announced the arrival and gave you a quick peek of the child you just labored to bring into the world. Then the baby was whisked away to be cleaned up, weighed, measured and assessed. After an hour or so, a sweet little bundle in a knit hat and flannel blanked with blue and pink stripes was placed in your arms, and you got to properly meet your baby.
Today, medical professionals are recognizing that the first hour after birth is an important time for mother and baby to bond. In many hospitals, they no longer rush to assess babies and complete the checklist of newborn tasks. Instead, they give newborns a chance to acclimate to life outside the womb with a period of skin-to-skin contact with their mother.
You’ll be glad to know the little knit cap is still in the picture! Babies are dried off and placed on their mother’s bare chest, wearing only the cap. A blanket is draped over them, and mother and baby spend up to an hour or more simply enjoying each other.
This intimate time of relaxation is about more than bonding: it has immediate effects on baby’s physical, emotional and social development. According to research, contact with the mother’s skin stimulates the part of a baby’s brain that causes him to move towards the breast and begin feeding. This encourages physical development. Emotional and social development is sparked when the baby opens her eyes and gazes at her mother. What’s more, this period of skin-to-skin contact improves the outcome for both mother and baby.
Benefits of Skin-to-skin Following Birth
Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth helps mothers by increasing oxytocin, resulting in lower blood pressure, a quicker return to pre-pregnancy hormone levels and lower incidence of post-partum depression. It can reduce post-partum bleeding, increase breastmilk production and improve breastfeeding outcomes.
For baby, the list of benefits is even longer.
Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth has been shown to improve babies’ ability to absorb and digest nutrients and maintain their body temperature. Their heartbeat and breathing are more stable and they have higher blood oxygen levels. These babies are more successful at breastfeeding immediately after birth, and demonstrate improved weight gain. They spend more time in the crucial deep sleep and quiet alert states and even cry less often.
There are also long-term benefits of skin-to-skin contact, such as improved brain development and function and better parent attachment. Surprisingly, skin-to-skin contact has even been linked to stronger immune systems.
So why do grandparents need to know about this? Because the key to realizing these benefits is letting mother and baby enjoy this window of time without distraction. Grandparents are not part of the equation, and allowing space for parents to bond with their baby is the first generous act you can complete as a grandparent.
If you are lucky enough to be there for the delivery, this means you can help improve the health of both mother and baby by removing yourself from the room. As hard as it might be to tear yourself away, you can give your new grandchild and its parents an enormous gift by stepping away. Go get a cup of coffee and call your best friend with the news (but don’t post it on social media until you’ve been given the green light by parents!). Take a walk and dream about all the things you want to do as a grandparent.
If you aren’t there for the birth, don’t be hurt if you have to wait for a FaceTime call or visit. Your chance to get to know your new grandchild will come soon enough.
And it will definitely be worth the wait.
Wondering what else new grandparents need to know? New Grandparent Essentials is the fastest way to get up to speed on the latest trends and safety information. Get your copy now!
Poison Prevention Week is March 20-26, the perfect time to identify poisoning hazards that might injure your grandchildren.
Before she could crawl, Amelia was the most content baby ever. She happily sat and watched the world go on around her, rarely fussing or making demands. Everyone who met her said the same thing: “She’s such a good baby!” And she was! Her parents quickly got used to the fact that she was no trouble at all.
And then she got mobile, and the trouble started. She got into everything, and the more dangerous it was, the quicker she found it. After months of having a perfectly behaved baby, her parents weren’t ready for one who tried to defy death on a regular basis. Even their best attempts at baby-proofing couldn’t keep her from finding hazards. They had the number for poison control on speed dial, and used it regularly. Luckily, despite her best attempts, Amelia (and her parents!) lived through all her misadventures.
The moral of this story is that babies and children, no matter how well-behaved they are, can get into trouble when we least expect it. As grandparents, we are often even less prepared for mischief: our homes are full of hazards. With Poison Prevention Week coming up March 20-26, I want to challenge you to check your house and secure any poisoning hazards now, before the next time your grandchildren are in your home.
There are three steps to protecting your grandchildren from accidental poisoning in your home:
1. Know what’s dangerous. Below, we’ve provided a list of some of the most common causes of poisoning. It’s not exhaustive, so go through your home and look for other items that may be harmful.
2. Secure all potentially hazardous substances. Remember, no container is 100% childproof. Keep all dangerous substances in their original containers and out of reach of children. Even better, keep them out of sight to reduce any temptation. Consider child safety latches on cupboards that contain hazardous items, even if they are above a child’s reach.
3. Program the number for Poison Help into your phone: 1-800-222-1222. Do it right now! (I just did it myself!)
Take a few minutes and find a safer place for the following common causes of accidental poisoning in children:
Medications. If you have your daily medications in a handy pill organizer (as many grandparents do), you need to make sure it is consistently put away where your grandchildren can’t see or reach it. Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning, and up to 20 percent of pediatric poisonings involve a grandparent’s medication. Make sure all medications, both prescription and over the counter, are out of sight and out of reach. This includes homeopathic and herbal remedies.
Household cleaners. Cleaners should be stored on a high shelf, out of reach and out of sight.
Dishwasher tabs. These shiny little nuggets look like candy to children.
Laundry pods. Like dishwasher tabs, these colorful pods appeal to curious children.
Tobacco and e-cigarette products.
Alcohol. This includes rubbing alcohol, spirits and hand sanitizer.
Pesticides and insect repellents. Make sure you check the yard and garage as well.
Button batteries. These are found in hearing aids, key fobs, books with music or sounds, etc.
Oils and lubricants. In addition to engine oil and others in the garage, think about fragrance oils, essential oils, etc.
Personal care products. Secure contact lens disinfectants, mouthwash, and other items that contain toxic ingredients.
Securing your home is just one part of the equation for grandparents.
You also need to be vigilant is when you visit your grandchild. Do you have medication in your purse? Make sure it’s not within reach, even if you are just stopping by. If you are staying overnight, don’t leave medications or other harmful substances in your suitcase where they can be found.
Smart grandparents make sure that they are up-to-date on health and safety issues. Make sure you’ve read our other posts on What Grandparents Need to Know, and get New Grandparent Essentials for even more information!
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