Buying the bike helmet isn’t enough, of course. We have to make sure our children actually wear them. We’ve gone through phases at our house (loathing to loving the helmet). The challenge isn’t often buying the helmet, it’s getting that helmet on every time and fitting it properly. I’ve learned the hard way– -after I pinched the skin on O’s chin a few times, I wasn’t even allowed to be the one helping him get it on!
Despite my lack of popularity with the boys on helmets, I’ve maintained hard rules: if the helmet isn’t on, the bike goes away and can’t be used for another 24 hours. I see helmets without buckled straps or hanging off the back of children’s heads everywhere I go. It wasn’t until I wrote a blog post about helmets when my oldest started to bike a few years back I learned to fit one properly.
Wearing a helmet reduces injury from bike & bike-motor vehicle accidents over 80% of the time. If the helmet isn’t snug and fit properly, it is far less likely to reduce injury. Hundreds of children and adults die annually in the US on their bicycles (primarily when struck by a car). Because 3/4 of all deaths on bicycles come from head injuries, wearing a properly fitting bike helmet can be a huge win. I hear over and over from children and parents in clinic that even though there is a helmet in the house their child isn’t always wearing it.
Further, when I review how important it is that the helmet fits, children and teens will often tell me they aren’t likely wearing it correctly.
Fitting A Bike Helmet
You want to ensure the helmet fits properly in 3 locations: above the eye, around the ear, and under the chin.
Eye: The helmet needs to be level on your child’s head (not back on their head like a baseball cap or yamaka) and needs to be positioned squarely on the forehead. Check with your fingers that the helmet is just 1-2 fingers above the eyebrow line.
Ear: The helmet straps should lie flat against their head (no twists!) and should form a “Y” shape just under the ear.
Chin: This is likely the point of most contention with children! The strap needs to be snug. Your child can help do the buckling (to avoid the dreaded pinched skin) but you make sure they are adjusted to the correct length. It should be snug enough to allow only a finger between the strap and chin with their mouth closed. When your child opens their mouth up wide, it should cause the helmet to move down on their head (see the video).
A Few Helmet Facts on Fittings (And A Giveaway):
- Helmet pads are a great way to make a snug fit. Swap them out and place them inside the helmet so that the helmet is snug once buckled. You shouldn’t be able to shift the helmet on your child’s head once the pads are in there. Often helmets come with replacements or pads of a few thickness. You can typically buy replacement pads if you need them.
- Helmets are a one-time-crash product. You have to throw out a helmet after any crash where your child’s head is hit. Even if you don’t see cracks in the plastic or in the foam, you’ll need a new one.
- There are ongoing helmet giveaways and free helmet-fittings here in Seattle if you want help. Next fitting/giveaway is in Ballard this week, June 27th. Here’s more on making sure the helmet fits!
- If your child is using a helmet for skateboarding or skating, they need the ASTM F1492 sticker of approval. Bike helmets are designed for bike injury prevention only and should have the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) sticker on the inside.
- Your children and their friends are lucky if they live in a state that requires bicycle helmets. Research published this spring found that children living in states with helmet laws had less fatalities when hit by cars (presumably because of the helmets).
- TIP: Take the helmet off at the park or playground. The straps can get stuck or snagged on equipment and cause your child to choke or have difficulty breathing.
Thank you for posting this. I am a speech therapist and work on a brain injury team and see all too many preventable traumatic brain injuries as a result of not wearing a helmet: bicycles, skateboards, motorcycles, etc. I live in Idaho, a state that does not have a helmet law, and would like to see the day that all states require helmets to be worn by law. Even if it doesn’t prevent total injury it has certainly been proven to minimize it.
Ann Soutter says
Years ago as an OR nurse, I remember doing an organ harvest on a beautiful 6 year old, who had been carrying his bike helmet by the straps when his fatal accident occurred. Have never forgotten it, and was so rigid about my son wearing a helmet, always. But, now, as a 15 year old, he refuses Any hints for dealing with a teenager?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thanks for your comment. I’m the kind that thinks you have to have a zero tolerance for helmets. Possible be clear about benefits and your stance. Tell him a story from your days working with children who have suffered traumatic brain injury. And then take away privileges (including the bike) if he doesn’t comply.
I’m not the mother of a teen (yet) so I am certainly unexperienced. But I think this is a perfect warm-up for all the rules with the car!
Hope this helps!
Do you tell other parents in public to put helmets on their kids when you see them with out one? My instinct is to say something… Wondering what you do.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
I don’t tend to offer up advice in public. Feels like an invasion and too confrontational. It’s a tricky balance…but that’s what I love about social tools— can get the word out here!