Mother puts helmet onto son's head

How to choose the right size and type of helmet for your child

The sun is out, the weather’s warm (hooray!), and it seems like Canada’s entire population has headed outside to soak up some Vitamin D and enjoy the outdoors.

Streets and paths are busy with active families and children riding bikes, rolling along on inline skates, and zipping by on scooters and skateboards.

My two boys have dug out every kind of wheeled contraption from our garage and are testing out their balance, coordination, and need for speed while out on our daily excursions.

They’re also testing my patience.

“Do I have to wear a helmet? I’m just practicing my ollies in the driveway!”

“Yes. Concrete is concrete!”

“It’s sooooo hot, do I have to wear my helmet? I’ll go slow!”

“Yes. You can go in the sprinkler when we get home. Let’s go!”

They know a helmet will protect their growing noggins in case of falls or crashes, and they know what my answer will always be, yet they still try. (Insert exasperated sigh here.)

While it’s much more common to see kids wearing helmets now than when I was biking around the streets during the 80s, there are still many children wearing improperly fitted helmets or none at all.

But the facts are clear: there’s no debating that helmet use greatly reduces injuries.

In its position statement on bicycling-related head injuries in Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society reports that of all hospital admissions, head injuries represent approximately one-half of bicycling injuries in children and youth.

Parachute, Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention, states that using bicycle helmets reduces head injuries by more than 40 percent, serious head injuries by 60 percent, and traumatic brain injury by 53 percent.

And helmet use doesn’t just protect those on bicycles—research [PDF] shows helmets and other protective equipment are the best way to prevent injuries while riding, whether you’re bicycling, scootering, skating, or skateboarding.

For a healthy and happy summer, ensure your kids—regardless of age, biking experience, or travel distance—enjoy their favourite activities safely while sporting a properly fitted helmet.

Choose the right kind of helmet for each sport

You might be tempted to buy one helmet and use it for everything, but according to the experts at Parachute, there really are important differences [PDF] between various kinds of helmets.

Bike helmets

Bike helmets can also be used for inline skating and scooter riding. These helmets are single-impact helmets, designed to protect the head from a single hard fall and need to be replaced after a crash or hard hit, even if you can’t see any damage.

Skateboarding helmets

Skateboarders need to use a different, specialized helmet. Because these riders tend to fall backwards, skateboarding helmets cover more of the back of the head and will protect against more than one crash.

Multi-sport helmets

Multi-sport helmets are specially designed to meet safety standards for multiple sports activities. The helmet should clearly state which sports it has been tested for, but contact the manufacturer if you’re unsure.

How to know if your child’s helmet fits

It’s not enough to just wear a helmet. According to Parachute, a helmet needs to fit properly each time it’s worn in order to provide the highest level of protection. The best way to get a safe and comfortable fit is to bring your child shopping with you. They’ll get to pick out their style and colour that way too!

  • A child’s helmet needs to fit at the time you buy it. They’re not meant to “grow into.”
  • Helmets for toddlers (five and under) provide more protection at the back of the head, but some children might outgrow theirs before they reach five and should use a larger size. If the helmet comes with extra padding, that can be added to correct the fit.
  • For children under one year of age, please check with a doctor or other healthcare provider before purchasing a helmet or taking them biking.

Stephanie Cowle of Parachute explains that the general recommendation for biking is to wait until your child is at least one year old.

“This is to prevent infant neck injuries, which could potentially be caused by movement during the activity,” she explains. “Think of a young child with low neck strength bobbing in a bike trailer, or the added weight of the helmet. Notably, the CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission], has different testing requirements for helmets intended for use by those aged 1 year and older, and those aged 5 and older.”

How to properly fit a helmet

Use the 2-V-1 rule to ensure a proper fit

Parachute recommends the 2-V-1 method:

  • The helmet should cover the top of the forehead and should rest about 2 fingers’ width above the eyebrows. Do not sling the helmet back to expose the forehead—it should sit level at the front and back and not be tilted back on an angle.
  • Straps should meet snugly in a V-shape just below the ears. Buckles on the side straps should fit right under the ear.
  • One finger should fit between the chin and chin straps. It should not shift around more than an inch in any direction, but should still allow the child to drink or shout.
  • If the head is shaken, the helmet should not move from front to back, or side to side.

Tips for safer helmet use

Parachute also gives the following suggestions for safer helmet use:

  • Look for a helmet that fits comfortably and meets safety standards labeling. Helmets sold in Canada are certified by CSA (Canadian Standards Association), CPSC, Snell, or ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials).
  • Your child should not wear a baseball hat or anything else underneath the helmet.
  • Avoid putting stickers on a helmet as the solvents in the adhesive can weaken the outer shell.
  • Helmets should be replaced at least every five years, even if you don’t see any damage.
  • Do not use second-hand helmets, since you cannot know whether they’ve been impacted or in a crash.
  • Check your provincial/territorial legislation on helmet use [PDF].
  • Get kids (and yourself!) into the habit of wearing a helmet each time they head out, whether they’re on a tricycle, scooter, or balance bike.

Keeping everyone safe will ensure an active, healthy, and happy summer season!

Read more about riding bikes:

One response to “How to choose the right size and type of helmet for your child

  1. I belong to the Kinsmen Club of Smiths Falls Ontario, Canada (non-profit organization) and we are planning to have a “Kids Bike Safety day and Rodeo” in mid-late July, in cooperation with your Police Service.. Your article “How to choose the right size and type of helmet for your child” is great and I want to know if we can use it for a handout to parents. We will copy and print it and provide proper attribution.

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