Wearing the Right Helmets the Right Way

girl on a bikeMost serious head injuries to kids can be prevented if they wear a helmet, but it’s important for children to wear the right kind of helmet, and to wear it correctly.

Before you get there, however, parents have to make sure their kids will actually wear a helmet.

Michelle Lubahn, CHOC’s community education coordinator, says parents should insist upon it from Day One – no exceptions.

“Starting this habit from the very beginning is your easiest route. For older kids, let them pick out something they like,” she says, adding, “Take the scooter or bike away if they don’t wear their helmet.”

If children balk at wearing a helmet, ask them why. They may fear they will look like a “geek,” or that their helmet will be ugly or uncomfortable. Talking about it and letting them pick out their helmet or decorate it will help, says Lubahn. Also explain to your child that it’s the law. In California, anyone under the age of 17 must wear a helmet approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission while riding a bike, scooter, skateboard, roller skates and inline skates.

The correct way to wear a helmet. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Pictured: the correct way to wear a helmet. It should have a snug but comfortable fit on the rider’s head. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Tips for buying and fitting a helmet:

  • The helmet should fit snugly and not slide around on the child’s head. Place two fingers above the child’s eyebrows and measure the circumference of the head there. Take that number with you when you go buy the helmet. When your child tries one on, place those two fingers above his eyebrow and the helmet should be resting there.
  • By law, the chinstrap must be buckled. If it’s not buckled, it’s likely to fly off. One of the child’s fingers should fit between the chinstrap and the chin.
  • If the helmet is on correctly, the straps should form a letter “V” below the ears.
  • Make sure the helmet meets federal guidelines set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If it’s approved, it should say so on the helmet.
  • Generally, most helmets shouldn’t be used again after a major impact or if the helmet gets cracked. If cracked, it should be replaced. Helmets also should not be tampered with for comfort or any reason.

Finally: all helmets were not designed for the same purpose. Your child needs to wear a helmet designed for the activity he or she is doing. For example, a child should not wear a bike helmet to play football or a hockey helmet for bike riding. “You want to use the right helmet for the right activity,” says Dr. Sharief Taraman, a CHOC pediatric neurologist.

To learn more about helmet safety, go to choc.org/health.

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