A photo popped up on my news feed that made my heart skip a beat recently. It was a friend’s son in his booster with a sweatshirt’s sleeves tied in front of his head to keep it from flopping forward as he slept. What was scarier to me was the number of people who unknowingly endorsed what was an incredibly dangerous idea. Lots of “Yeah great idea”, “Good job mate” etc.
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of this happening, someone trying desperately to solve the problem of their kid’s head flopping forward when they slept in the car. I’ve heard of other incidences of people tying sheets to their kid’s heads etc. The problem is when you restrain a child’s neck in that way with whatever you have lying around you create a very real risk for your child and potentially risk seriously injuring them in a crash when that’s certainly NOT what you intended. Because in crash physics, a body is naturally thrust forward, including a child’s head and neck. However if you then strap part of that equation backwards with your handy dandy t-shirt/sheet/whatever you create a situation where their head can no longer move naturally forward with the forces and ultimately that force still has to go somewhere, so where does it go potentially? Down to their very vulnerable neck. Not a good scenario.
So what do I do if my kid’s head is flopping forward in the car?
First off if you can do so turn them back rear facing. Due to the angle rear facing seats sit at kids rarely have the same kind of problem with the head flop that they do forward facing. If it’s really a big concern for you and your kid has outgrown their current seat rear facing, take a look at an A4 seat that will allow them to rear face to at least 30 months.
Assuming that’s not an option then check the recline of your car seat, often parents don’t even realize seats in forward facing mode can recline, leading to much of the head flop problem.
If that doesn’t work also look at your actual vehicle seats, are you able to recline them as well? Often just a bit of recline on the actual vehicle seats is enough to help stop head flop when combined with making sure the car seat is fully reclined as well.
Also, look and ask yourself, is my child in the right seat for their age? Often when kids move up to seats that are too old for them the seats have a poorer recline and thus, head flop becomes more of an issue sooner.
Lastly, know that even if it looks really uncomfortable to you most kids are perfectly fine with a head flop. As long as your child has good head control if they start to cut off their air supply due to the weird angle their head is at their body will naturally send them signals to move, hence that weird snort and head move you so often see people sleeping do. Kids regularly sleep in really weird positions, in and out of the car, and don’t seem at all phased by it, in fact, they often prefer it. When’s the last time you saw an adult sleep on their stomach with their knees under them and their bum in the air? Not often but for kids, it’s pretty normal. So don’t freak out just because it looks uncomfortable doesn’t mean it actually is for them.
Ultimately car seats have a very clear guideline in the manual, don’t add stuff to them. They are tested exactly the way they are sent to you, changing that by adding a sheet around the head, a shirt or anything else is changing how that car seat tested to keep kids safe in an accident. And personally I’m not willing to find out if my kid makes a good crash test dummy or not for that t-shirt trick, as ingenious as it may seem at solving the battle of floppy heads, it’s just not worth it.
Amber is a mum of two crazy kids, who’s passionate about car seat safety and advocacy after personally seeing the effects a car accident and loss can have on a family. She’s been working on promoting safe car seat use for the past year to mums and dads via Facebook. She previously lived in Sydney (where her heart still lives) but now is back in Chicago spreading the message on car seat safety on both sides of the world.
Unsure if your car seat is fitted correctly or have questions around car seat safety? Here are some sites that can help: