6 Year Old in a 5 Point Harness: Why I Still Use ‘Baby Seats’

6 year old in a harness

A friend and I were talking about car seats the other day. She noticed that all three of my children are in five point harnesses, including my 6-year-old first grader. I half-jokingly will tell people that I’ll keep them in their seats until they get their learner’s permits.

In contrast, a neighbor of mine – who is also a police officer – regularly drives down our street with his 5 year old unrestrained (and usually standing up) in the back seat. My heart sinks each time I see it, and I wonder how someone who must have seen a car accident or two can operate a car without protecting his child.

I found it pretty interesting to see a map outlining the laws regarding car seat usage in the various states. Sadly, my own state (Florida) is the most lax with their rulings, requiring that children 3 years or under are in restraints. (Hear that, neighbor?) Tennessee and Wyoming are at the opposite end of the spectrum, requiring child restraints for all children 8 years and younger.

I understand that I walk the conservative side of the line on this one. Driving for field trips has been interesting, as the other kids in my daughter’s kindergarten class were horrified by our seats. Their instantaneous reaction to entering our car was usually, “I’m not riding in a baby seat! Where are the real seats?” I’m not entirely opposed to the “big kid” seats. She has a booster in her daddy’s truck, but I’m not comfortable with it for everyday use. She just passed the 40 lb mark needed for using the booster, so I prefer the five point harness for my little big girl.  

I know my choices are colored by my experience. My brother died in a car accident. It took over a year after that day to get past the terror I felt each time I got behind the wheel with my kids in the backseat. I am very aware that my own feelings about car seats are influenced by that experience. But I can also look to the facts. According to the CDC, “Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the United States.”

What about you? How long do you plan to use a five point harness? Will you go beyond the requirements for your state?

Check out the links below for more information on car seat safety.

Cruisin’ in the Car: Car Safety

Using Latch: Is Your Seat Safe?

Video: How to Choose a Safe Car Seat

What do you think?

6 Year Old in a 5 Point Harness: Why I Still Use ‘Baby Seats’

Sara McTigue is a secret agent, cupcake chef, award winning author, photographer, and PTA mom. At least, that is how things look in her mind. When she isn’t testing the bounds of her imagination, she is a mom to three amazing and hilariously funny children, wife to a charming and handsome man, and thoroughly addicted to reading. With a BS in English Education and an MA in English Literature, words – and their ability to shape our lives and thoughts – are an everyday fascination. Af ... More

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  1. Avatar of verochka31 verochka31 says:

    everyone has their own reasons and concerns. we are not judges to judge. we don’t have to agree but respect their choices. children’s safety should be number one in our lives.

  2. Avatar of Megan KlayEditor Megan Klay says:

    Love the explanation, Sara. And could Annabella be any cuter?!

  3. Avatar of Angie Angie says:

    T & P, Sara! I sympathize with and can’t imagine the pain of your loss. <>

  4. Avatar of Sherri Sherri says:

    I do not see any problem with it. My son is going to turn 3 in December and he just went forward facing.

  5. Avatar of babymomma babymomma says:

    I don’t see the problem with having a six year old in a five point seat because I have seen kids get out of the booster seats and this cause distraction for the driver and is not safe on the child back in the day we did not have car seats but today im great full as a parent knowing my child is safe in a car seat or booster I think they should switch to five point harness seats for older children :) as a mother you can never be to safe with a child car accidents are the number one cause of death in the us.

  6. Avatar of Ashleigh Ashleigh says:

    My almost 5 year old is still in a 5-point harness and I believe I can still increase her harness up two more notches. She will be staying in it until she outgrows it and it no longer is comfortable or safe for her to sit in. It does however transfer into a high back booster seat and I will be keeping her in that for quite some time too. Also, my 1 1/2 year old is still rear facing. When it comes to my children, I would rather be safe, even if it’s more work for me.

  7. Avatar of Mindi StavishAuthor Mindi Stavish says:

    My boys will be in 5 point harnesses for as long as I can because they are tiny and SOOOO much safer in them. We were in a car accident going 50 mph last January and neither had a single scratch on them thanks to their carseats. Also my 3 year old was rear facing until about 2 1/2.

  8. Avatar of ida ida says:

    Both my older kids were in car seats until they were 12! Their friends made fun of them and even adults were ridiculing the whole thing but I couldn’t have cared less about what they all thought, my babies were a little safer and that’s all that mattered to me.

  9. Avatar of beth beth says:

    I have 3 kids — the oldest is 7 then 5 and lastly is my 2 year old — and guess what – my 7 year old I still in a 5 point harness in my van – we just switched to a belt positioner booster in my husbands because my 2 1/2 old just went forward facing and there wasn’t enough room for 3 across the back— my kids are all relatively petite. my oldest is the heaviest in comparison to the others at 43 inches tall and 46 lbs my middle one is 40 inches tall and 36 lbs and my youngest is petite as well but I cannot remember her exact measurements … I have had a few commenters on this — however I am used to it — cloth pad/cup wearing, cloth diaper using, extended breastfeeding- extended rear facing and 5 point harness using mamma !

  10. Avatar of Grace Grace says:

    our van brook so all we have is a car and our car does not fit the big bulky seats, i would still use them except i only have one and need 2.

  11. Avatar of babyleach babyleach says:

    My child was wearing 5T clothing by age 3 and was just a big hunk of a muscular kid because he had severe ADHD and he played so much and had a Hugh frame. By 3 1/2 he was in a booster seat but stayed in that until he was seven and outgrew it. He hated it because none of his friends had to sit in “baby seats” even though it is the law.

  12. Avatar of m71727 m71727 says:

    My son is almost 3 and I feel like he is getting too big for his carseat I plan to keep him in it but I feel like he is uncomfortable and sometimes he unhooked the top part and I have to park on the ride of the road to redo it. My sister in law got a ticket because she didn’t notice her son did that and the cop pulled her over and have her a speech about carseat safety

  13. Avatar of Petri Petri says:

    Thank you for the comment,
    I live in China and can’t get hold of a car seat for 4y and older with a five point harness.
    Could anyone give me brands and models with this feature ?

    thank you in advance…

  14. Avatar of Leslie Leslie says:

    My child is 3 and 39inches. In a 5 seat hardness. She has 10inches to go and she will not need to be in a toddler seat anymore. My tall girl and she get it from daddy. Wow she will taller than mommy one day.

  15. Avatar of Nat Nat says:

    I always have to laugh at the people who lecture me about having a home birth and then drive away without their kids in a car seat! I always buy a car seat with a higher weight limit and leave my kids in as long as possible. I have a five point front facing car seat that goes to 80lbs and due to the fact my kids are all small my son may be riding in it until he is 12…he loves it and calls it his race car seat so why change a good thing.

  16. Avatar of Kali Kali says:

    I’m with you. I would perfect my little ones to be in a car seat until they can get their permit. Because I love the little ones so. it’s not over bearing in my opinion. but maybe over protective. So letting go a little is all about growing up. sigh. if I must. I would go with manufactures weight and height recommendations for the vehicle being driven and add 1″ plus 10 lbs.

  17. Avatar of Karen Karen says:

    I also have a first grader the same size as your first grader, and he will continue to ride in a 5 point harness until he is either too tall or too heavy to do so. I actually tried the high back booster with the shoulder harness and did not like the way it fit him at all. It made me a nervous wreck when he took one round trip to his grandmother’s house in that seat, and he won’t be in it again anytime soon. He fussed about it, but his safety comes first. I also recently bought a better car seat for my 2 yo grandson and put him back to rear facing. I know his mother won’t have him rear facing when she takes him for rides in her friends’ vehicles, but when he is with me, he will be in a good seat, rear facing. He is about 30 pounds. The seat will accommodate up to 40 or 45 lbs rear facing and then when I turn him around, he will remain in the 5 point harness up to 65 lbs also. My 6 year old was rear facing until he was about 4 years old and his legs really just got too long which made the closure at the crotch too tight. For those parents who think rear-facing is more dangerous or too uncomfortable, I would simply urge you to go to YouTube and type in something like “rear facing vs. forward facing crash tests” and see for yourself. There are also some very sad blogs on the internet about toddlers who were gravely injured in forward facing seats. One story I read told about a toddler who was internally decapitated. Toddlers heads are very heavy in comparison to their small frames and in a forward facing seat, their little heads fly very violently forward in their seats, which can indeed break their little necks. I would encourage everyone who is questioning the recommendations to please do some research and watch some actual video footage of crash tests.

  18. Avatar of sandrine sandrine says:

    Actually the kid in the picture that goes with this article is NOT safe in that car seat because she outgrew it.. To fit in a 5 point harness facing forward the level of the harness needs to be higher that the kid shoulder..

    • Avatar of Sara McTigue, CLCEditor Sara McTigue, CLC says:

      The kid in the picture is one of mine. She’s now 7, and comfortably riding in a Nautilus that fits her height and weight. The harnesses were correct on this seat as well – she may have been pushing up in the seat or it may be the angle of the photo – but I assure you that her shoulders were below the slot. Thanks for your concern – car seat safety is a hugely important issue!

  19. Avatar of Kitty Kitty says:

    The fact of the matter is, keeping your kids in a car seat is safe for as long as you like – as long as they don’t exceed the height and weight limits of the car seat. Once that happens, it is no longer a safe option, and they need to be “graduated” (if you will) to the next seat design. I know the state of Michigan requires all children under the age of 8 or under 4’9″ to be in a booster seat – and the cops don’t mess around with that law, either. I will keep my child in the 5-point harness as long as their booster seat allows it, or whenever they’re in the car with Daddy behind the wheel cause well, he likes to stop awfully suddenly…:p

  20. Do you know how long it would take to get 6 kids in and out of 5pt harness seats…yikes. That would never work for us.
    Mine are all in boosters. They’re also much heavier and larger than your 6yr old. My 3yr old almost 4 is 48lbs and quite tall. My other 4 children are ages 6-8 and have all surpassed the height requirements and far surpassed the weight requirements (they’re 53-65lbs). The baby however will stay rear facing and in 5pt harness until she is around 2.

  21. Avatar of cecilia cecilia says:

    My oldest was in a five point harness until she was six she’s now in a highback booster my youngest is two and will stay in his five point harness until six as well we also rear faced both until two

  22. My oldest will be 9 next month and I just bought her a new 5point harness Recaro ProSport because she’d reached the height limit of her other seat. She and my 7 year old will be harnessed for as long as I can manage, and my 3 year old will rear face for at least another year.

    • Avatar of Jenn Jenn says:

      i understand being protective, but that seems a little much… your poor three yr old is stuck scrunched like that for another whole year! how is that safe? sorry just my opinion

      • Avatar of Sara McTigue, CLCEditor Sara McTigue, CLC says:

        It’s actually much safer to rear face. Kids are amazingly flexible and can simply cross their legs. Plus – broken leg = simple fix. Broken neck = not so simple.

        • Avatar of jesster131 jesster131 says:

          In my car a rear face seat for my 2 year old would require his knees to be bent up so far his he would spend the drive staring at his knees. I realize that is my car but we had to go front face early. My car is a tiny 2 door that even the back seats a basicly bucket seats. He is also big for his age. 34 inches tall & 36 lbs just turning 2.

  23. Avatar of Melanie Melanie says:

    First of all, to the people who question the safety of an older kid in a rear facing seat: all of the authorities on this subject (AAP & HSP, etc) have come out with many statements regarding this topic. ALL of them report that the absolute safest position in a vehicle for ANY child is rear facing. As long as the car seat is designed to hold their weight and size, sitting with their legs crossed in a rear facing seat is a hundred times safer than sitting forward facing in an accident. My three year old is still a little small (only 21lbs and her carseat is approved for up to 40lbs rear facing, so she will remain rear facing for as long as she can. My five, eight, and ten year olds are all in five point harnesses as well. It is the safest way for them to ride in the car and they are old enough to understand that, so they don’t complain at all. I’ve never lost anyone close to me in a car accident, its just that I want my children to be as safe as they possibly can. Even though I may be a good and careful driver, there are millions of other drivers on the road and it only takes a second for your life to change. My greatest fear is losing one of my children, so I will keep them as safe as I can for as long as I can.

  24. Avatar of Margarita Margarita says:

    This thread is quite old so I suspect that folks who commented back then probably won’t be reading comments. However, I felt the need to mention to the mom that accused the rest of needing therapy and not feeding their kids that she is making some pretty unfair assumptions. Dunno if your kids are average or just plain overweight, I don’t try to make assumptions. The fact is that some kids are tall, some are short, some are heavy, some are skinny. You can’t assume that a kid who is smaller than yours is automatically underfed. It could be plain old genetics!!!

    As for what my kid is in, she is indeed small, just like her parents. She was in her infant seat in my car until 1, but seemed anxious to look outside and kept trying to move her head up, so I put her in a rear facing convertible in mine, the Radian 65 which now goes by the Radian 100 with the changes they made when they became Diono instead of Sunshine Kids, and left her in the infant seat in hubby’s car since there was no way to stick a rear-facing convertible in a Mini Cooper (maybe the Clubman, but we have the regular). She remained rear facing in my car until about 2 1/2 when she started dangling her legs over the sides of the seat. Her pediatrician and I agreed that it made more sense to flip her at that point, otherwise I would have kept her rear-facing until she reached the limit, which I think for that seat is 40 lbs, but I’d have to check my manual since its been a while. She had already been facing forward facing in dad’s car since age 2 when she got too tall for her infant seat. I got the Radian XT (which in hindsight I wish I’d gotten for mine, but I may upgrade some day) which keeps her in a 5pt harness until 49″ and 80 lbs. I flirted with getting the Britax Frontier which would keep her that way for a few more inches, but when she sat on one at The store she said it was uncomfortable, so we stuck with a Radian. She is now 4 and still harnessed and will continue to be that way until she gets too tall, probably 1st or second grade I suspect, and we’ll then get the high back booster. I know not everyone agrees, and if your child starts crawling out of their seat mid drive I certainly agree that a booster they won’t climb out of is a better choice than no seat at all, but I believe you should go for the safest possible option for your child. I don’t think I am babying her or keeping her from growing up. I let her go as far on the monkey bars as she’s willing to go without hovering and I’m discussing switching her to bike with training wheels if we can find a place for her to ride it (the sidewalks in our neighborhood are uneven and have too many cracks which makes it hard to turn the wheels on her trike), but you bet she’ll be wearing a helmet. Safety and growing up don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  25. Avatar of Christi Christi says:

    I wish that there was a way for adults to have 5point harness. Don’t race car drivers have them? I’d feel safer as well and maybe the belt wouldn’t cut across my neck so bad as I’m just 5foot. I feel that this would also be a helpful thing for cars to start having as cars continue to get smaller and more Eco friendly. Having more than 2 kids in any special seating (booster, infant carrier etc.) makes it problematic. In the mean time we have to do the best with the information, finances, &options we currently have. Reading this has made me appreciate the safety built into the seating we have for our children no matter how inconvenient they can be.