How to Pick the Best Bicycle Helmet for Your Child

Important safety information and expert tips
Mom with daughter trying to bike without training wheels

We all know to keep our kids safe on their bikes, they need to wear helmets. But do you have trouble enforcing this rule? And how do you know when your child really has the right helmet, with the right fit? Pediatrician Richard So, MD, has tips on both fronts to help you stock your parenting tool box.

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Why kids really need to wear helmets

Young people seem especially prone to bicycle injuries. Children, age 5 and older, as well as young adults have the highest rates of bicycle-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They account for almost 60% of all bicycle-related injuries that end up in U.S. emergency departments.

Wearing a helmet can reduce your child’s risk of head injury by as much as 85%. Note that most injuries related to bicycle accidents involve a rider’s head and face, which makes a helmet vital for safety.

Help getting your kids on board with wearing bike helmets

Here are some tips to encourage kids to wear helmets:

  • Start early. When kids begin the habit of wearing their helmets early, they tend to continue. All bike riders — including those riding a tricycle — should wear bicycle helmet.
  • Involve kids in choosing their helmet. As long as the helmet fits properly, let your child pick out his or her helmet. They’ll be more apt to wear a helmet if they choose it.
  • Set an example. Adults should wear a helmet themselves when biking to encourage kids to do the same.

Before buying, check bicycle helmets for this safety sticker

Look for the Consumer Product Safety Committee (CPSC) sticker inside the helmet. This label or sticker ensures that the helmet will provide a high level of protection in case of any impact.

The law requires that helmets manufactured after March 1999 meet the CPSC standard. The helmet also meets the standard if you see these labels:  “ASTM,” “ANSI,” and “Snell” — voluntary safety standards in place before 1999.

Good news for parents: more expensive doesn’t mean safer

“There’s evidence that protection from an inexpensive helmet is as good for impact protection as an expensive helmet,” Dr. So says.

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The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute sent six helmet models to a U.S. test lab: Three helmets were $150+ and three were under $20. The impact test results, as well as performance, were virtually identical among all the helmets, regardless of price.

What seemed to set helmets apart in prices was an easier fit, more vents and choices of graphics. This is good news for parents who can choose a good price point without worrying about any sacrifices in safety.

What to consider before getting used or hand-me-down helmets

If considering a used or hand-me-down helmet, never purchase or use a broken helmet or one that has any cracks. You also don’t want a helmet that has been in a crash.

Keep in mind that used or older helmets might have cracks you cannot see, and they might not meet current safety standards if manufactured before 1999.

How to tell if my child’s bicycle helmet really fits

Check for these things when your child puts on the bicycle helmet:

  • When your child buckles the chin strap, the helmet should have a snug but comfortable fit. Be sure the straps of the helmet are even and that they form a “Y” that comes together right at the bottom of the ear lobe.
  • If you try to move the helmet from side-to-side or up and down, it should stay snug.
  • When your child opens her mouth, she should feel the helmet pull down on her head.
  • The helmet should sit level on your child’s head (not tilted back!), and it rest low on the forehead.
  • Check that the bottom edge of the helmet is one to two finger-widths above the eyebrow.
  • With the helmet securely fastened, test your child and ask if she can still see and hear clearly.

Another technique to check proper positioning is this: Your child should see the very edge of the helmet when she looks upward.

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What to do if you have trouble fitting the bicycle helmet

Another way to customize how a bicycle helmet fits is to consider the internal padding. Bicycle helmets are available in several different sizes and with different thicknesses of internal padding for a custom fit.

To get a snug fit, place the internal pads in areas where there is space between your child’s head and the helmet along the front, back, and/or sides of the helmet. You should position the pads evenly around the inside of the helmet.

If the helmet does not feel snug after adjusting the pads and when the straps are correctly buckled, try adjusting the pads again or try another helmet.

If you are still having trouble, ask a salesperson to help you. Keep in mind that a properly fitted, strapped in helmet will stay on your child’s head despite any degree of twisting or pulling.

Consider other uses for bicycle helmets

Kids can also wear bicycle helmets when in-line skating or roller skating.

Skateboarders or skaters who perform tricks might want to look for helmets specifically designed for these activities and that meet safety standards for these sports. These helmets cover more of the head, especially the back of the head.

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