Belt or Booster? How to Keep Your Big Kid Safe

Belt or Booster? How to Keep Your Big Kid Safe

If you’re the parent of a “big kid” between the ages of 5 and 12, you’ve probably scratched your head at some point wondering how, where, and in what they should be traveling. There are more options now than ever! Unfortunately, many parents and caregivers make a dangerous choice, without even knowing they could be putting their kids in jeopardy. Following are some of the options for safe travel with older children, including how and why each might work for you:

Unlike a car seat, a booster is a positioner, not a child restraint. Its main purpose is to keep the seat belt on the child’s strong hips and collar bone. With a booster, the lap portion of the belt runs under an armrest or clip which holds it low on the hips and upper thighs. This positions the lap belt so that it can’t cut into the child’s soft abdomen, causing serious or potentially life-threatening injuries. Most boosters also position the shoulder belt to keep it flat across the collarbone and protect the neck. An updated study of booster seat effectiveness (Pediatrics, 2009) concluded that children ages 4-8 in boosters are 45% safer from nonfatal injuries than children in seatbelts. The study didn’t find any difference in preventing injury between backless and high-back boosters. Some parents prefer to use high-back boosters because they offer some side-impact protection and give their children a place to lay their heads if they fall asleep. Others prefer the convenience of a lightweight backless booster that can easily travel with the child and be moved between vehicles. A backless booster will NOT work if the vehicle headrest comes below the child’s ears because of the danger of whiplash from rear-end crashes. A child can safely move to a booster seat when he/she has outgrown a car seat by weight and height, as long as the child is mature enough to stay in position while traveling. This usually happens between ages 5-7 but depends on the individual child.

Credit: G. Hinton

How do you know when your child is ready to “graduate” to an adult seatbelt? Because the height and depth of seats vary from vehicle to vehicle, and all children are not made exactly alike, there is no specific height or weight guideline. Instead, there is a simple 5-step test as follows:

• Is your child sitting all the way back in the seat?
• Do the child’s knees reach the edge of the seat without scooting?
• Do the child’s feet touch the floor?
• Does the shoulder belt cross the child’s collar bone and not his/her neck?
• Is the child mature enough to stay in position during the entire trip?

If you can answer “yes” to every question, your child is ready to use an adult seatbelt in that vehicle. If not, no matter what your child’s age, it might be best to continue using a booster seat for a while. When a child is too small sit in an adult seatbelt, the lap belt will slide up onto his/her stomach. In a crash, the belt will keep tightening because there is no bone or other object (i.e. the armrest of a booster) to stop it. During the crash, everything has to stop so fast that it causes the belt to put extreme force on the internal organs and spine, causing the organs to rupture and the spine to snap or fracture. This cluster of injuries is called “seat belt syndrome” and can be severe. Using a booster until your child is big enough to fit the vehicle seat eliminates the risk.

If Your New Year’s Resolution is to Eat Healthier, Do You Know Where to Start?

If Your New Year’s Resolution is to Eat Healthier, Do You Know Where to Start?

Setting a New Year’s resolution is a tradition for many people. Unfortunately, breaking those resolutions also seems to be a tradition. If your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthier, here are some tips to help you to be successful.

A close up of January 1st circled to start eating healthier.

Photo Credit: Terri Keith, UF/IFAS Extension

First, you will be more likely to follow through on your resolution by setting a SMART goal. A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed. You can find more information on setting a SMART goal here.

Second, know that eating healthier doesn’t necessarily mean going on a diet or avoiding all the foods you enjoy. Eating healthier can start with making simple substitutions to your favorite recipes, like using whole wheat pasta instead of refined grain pasta, or swapping out sodas and energy drinks for water or other unsweetened beverages. It could mean that you make a conscious effort to enjoy the foods that aren’t as healthy for you in moderation or work on lowering the amount of sodium/salt that you eat. There are many ways to eat healthier and if you need more suggestions, you can check out this article on 5 things to avoid eating.

Whether you are starting with simple steps or looking for more in-depth information, ChooseMyPlate from the USDA can be a useful resource. There, you can find information on daily recommended values for the different food groups, what counts as a serving, along with other resources, like recipes or healthy eating on a budget. You might be surprised to find out what counts as a serving!

Third, try involving your kids or other members of your household in working together to eat healthier. There’s even a section at ChooseMyPlate that focuses on healthier eating for families. It can be harder to stick with your resolution if you are the only one working on it because your shopping list can end up including more sweetened snacks than fruits and vegetables. If you need some inspiration to get started, you can find a few videos of recipes that were adapted from ChooseMyPlate here.

Eating healthier is a terrific goal any time of the year. If this is your New Year’s resolution, follow these tips and stick with it!

Breathe Into the New Year

Breathe Into the New Year

Guess what, guys? We made it! We have finally put 2020 behind us and are now looking forward to 2021. I, for one, am hopeful. I am expecting great things from this year.

Admittedly, I have not always had an optimistic outlook. I used to like to say that I was a natural-born cynic. And while I still have cynical tendencies, I have learned strategies over this last challenging year that have really helped me look at things more positively and helped me deal with stress.

It all starts with mindfulness. While this has really become a bit of a buzzword in recent times, the foundations of mindfulness are solid and based on research.  At its most basic, mindfulness refers to the practice of being in the moment. Sounds simple, right? Well, if your mental habits are as ingrained as mine were, it takes a lot of practice to be in the moment.

I am an overthinker. A brooder. A ruminator. As far back as I can remember, I have thought about things before I did them, then thought about them again for a long time afterwards. Especially if it was something I felt I had not done right or that did not go well. I would be driving or trying to sleep and thoughts, regrets, and recriminations would just be spinning, spinning, spinning endlessly in my head.

A dock and pier at Seahorse Key.

Spending time in a peaceful place without outside distractions is a great way to refresh and recharge. (Photo source: Marisol Amador, UF/IFAS)

This was just who I was. I had learned to live with it. I always knew that if something important was coming up, like an exam or a presentation, I would obsess about it beforehand to the point where I would lose sleep. If something happened that did not go well, I would fixate on it for days afterward.

It was stressful, but I dealt with it. And then 2020 happened.

Suddenly, I could not deal with it anymore. My obsessive ruminations and self-recriminations were suddenly unmanageable in the midst of the social isolation and worries brought on by the strains of a global pandemic.

I needed to find a way to change my outlook. A way to deal effectively with the overwhelming feelings I was experiencing. I wanted to be more positive. I wanted to stop seeing doom over every horizon. Most of all, I wanted to stop obsessing about everything all the time.

So I started reading about mindfulness. Then I started trying to practice it. I say “trying” because there are still days where I am just not feeling it, where I am just not able to find that quiet space inside myself that I need to tap into to be in the moment. However, I have gotten better at it with practice.

The key is breathing. Focusing on my breath – each inhale and each exhale, one after the other – allows me to feel centered, to relegate my other thoughts to the background. When outside thoughts arise, I have learned how to push them away and concentrate on the moment. And the next one. And so on.

The best part about this practice is how portable it is. No matter where I am, I always have my breath. If I am feeling overwhelmed or angry or sad or frustrated, I can simply take a few moments to concentrate on my breathing, allowing those feelings to just be, and, eventually, they pass, leaving me feeling refreshed.

I encourage all of you to take on 2021 with a mind towards mindfulness. You may be surprised at just how much a few minutes of purposeful breathing each day can improve your overall outlook. It has really changed my life.

For more information about mindfulness, check out the UF/IFAS Extension fact sheet Mindfulness: An Introduction.

UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Is Gathering In-person During the Holidays Worth the Risk?

Is Gathering In-person During the Holidays Worth the Risk?

2020 has been a year of many changes and challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which unfortunately will continue into our holiday season. To protect our friends, family and community members we must continue following the science-based guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your state and local guidelines to prevent exposure and the spread of the virus.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 epidemic numbers are rising again. Gatherings of any kind, both small and large, are contributing to the rise in positive cases. We can all make choices based on the scientific research that can protect us and others by making small changes in our 2020 holiday celebrations. Limiting the risk and being diligent in our actions should be our main goal until a vaccine is approved and dispersed throughout the country.

Thanksgiving dinner

Holiday Dinner
Photo Source: UF/IFAS

Some unique and easy ways to celebrate the holidays this year are to “gather virtually” with those not in your immediate household or to gather in-person only with members of your own household. These two types of gatherings offer the lowest risk for spreading the virus. Your household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your home. People who do not currently live in your home, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households. In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including those college students returning home, offer varying levels of risk. The level of risk is difficult to determine because people may have been exposed and/or are a carrier and may not be aware of it.

Here are some specific things to consider when deciding how to celebrate your holidays.

  • Number of cases in your community – Be sure to know the number of positive Covid cases in your community. If the numbers are rising or are already high you should take precautions based on the data. You can check your specific county or city Covid rates at your local health departments website.
  • Exposure during travel – Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations, rest stops and hotels are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. Be aware if you will be traveling or if you have guests traveling to your home.
  • Location of your gathering – Indoor gatherings, especially those with poor ventilation, expose your family to more risk than outdoor gatherings.
  • How long will your gathering last? – Time is an important factor to consider. The longer the gathering lasts the more risk those attendees will have of being exposed. Being within 6 feet of someone who has Covid for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires a 14-day quarantine.
  • Number and crowding of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people bring more risk than gatherings with fewer people. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet (2 arm lengths) apart, wear masks, wash hands and follow state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules and regulations.
  • Behaviors of attendees before the gathering – People who do not consistently follow social distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing and other prevention behaviors cause more risk than those who consistently practice the recommended safety measures.
  • Behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more safety measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing, offer less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented. Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and may make it more difficult to practice Covid safety measures.
picture of a cell phone on a flowered material case on a woodgrain desk

Be sure your technology is charged and ready for your virtual holiday visit. Photo Source: Kendra Zamojski

Other high-risk holiday related activities to avoid to help prevent the spread of the virus:

  • Going shopping in crowded stores.
  • Participating or being a spectator at a crowded parade, race or other holiday celebration.
  • Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household.
  • Using alcohol or drugs that may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice Covid safety measures.

Things to consider before your gatherings:

To make the holiday less stressful be sure to practice a virtual session before the virtual holiday gathering. Make sure everyone involved knows how to connect to the virtual holiday celebration so the gathering will go more smoothly and hopefully experience less technical problems on that day.

We all had to adapt to many unexpected changes this year and the holidays will be no different. Just remember being diligent now will protect family and friends and help control the spread of the virus in our communities. Be sure to enjoy your unique holiday season this year, but here’s hoping for a less challenging 2021.

Stay safe! Enjoy your family and friends from a safe distance! Happy Holidays!






Dining In is In Again

Dining In is In Again

Dining out with family was the thing to do when we were so busy doing so much outside the home. Now that we’re spending more time at home together, dining in is in again. You can start or continue the “in” thing by taking the pledge to dine-in healthy with your family this December 3rd.  Why take this kind of pledge? Keep reading.

FCS Dine In Day circle logo

FCS Dine In Day

Making and keeping a promise has an upside

Keeping the commitment you made to eat healthy with your family means you get to reap the rewards of actually providing a healthy meal for your family. Additionally, keeping this promise can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem because you know you’re making strides to take care of yourself and your family.

Become popular

Since dining in is in again, eating healthy with your family December 3rd makes you the admired one to your family and friends. As you dine in together, share praises and compliments as well as healthy foods, and reinforce the feeling of belonging. After providing these trendy experiences often enough, you can begin to enjoy the adoration and respect of others around you. You can be popular.

It’s cherished time

Schedule it. Block off time for it. Show up for it. You and your family are worth it. Start with the pledge on December 3rd. For best success for a healthy lifestyle change, make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal. That’s one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed. Here’s an example: Every Tuesday at 6pm, our family will eat a healthy meal together that includes at least two vegetables and a whole grain.

You can keep it safe
  • If ventilation indoors is a bit stifling, eat outdoors when you can. Backyards, patios, and porches are great venues for your dining experiences.
  • Clean your hands often as you prepare and eat your meal. If you can’t wash for 20 seconds with soap and running water, hand sanitizer is a good backup. Make sure your hands are completely dry after washing or sanitizing.
  • Cook foods to the proper temperature. See the Safe Internal Temperature Chart.
  • Put leftovers away as quickly as possible.
Tried and true or something new
  • Have fun. Try decorating to make your mealtime together special. Let all family members participate.
  • Make comfort food. But also try making something you’ve never had before, or try food prepared in a new way.
  • Look through the cabinets or in the garage for kitchen equipment you haven’t used in a long time or have forgotten you had. Then use it.

For better health and wellness, make the pledge to Dine In with your family this December 3rd.  Now is the time – especially since dining in is in again.

How Loud is Too Loud?

How Loud is Too Loud?

Did you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list hearing loss as the third most common chronic health condition in the U.S.? Many people do not recognize they have hearing loss, either because they do not realize it themselves or they won’t admit they have a problem. Statistics have shown that approximately 1 in 4 adults in the US between the ages of 20 and 69 who report having excellent hearing actually have measurable hearing damage.

Lower the volume on personal listening devices to protect your hearing. Photo source: Terri Keith

Most of us have heard that loud noises can damage our hearing, but do you know what is considered loud? Noises are measured in decibels (dB). Here are the measurements of some common sounds:

  • 40 dB – Refrigerator hum
  • 60 dB – Normal conversation
  • 70 dB – Washing machine
  • 80 dB – Traffic noise inside a car
  • 80-85 dB – Gas-powered lawnmower
  • 95 dB – Motorcycle
  • 100 dB – Sporting event
  • 105-110 dB – Maximum volume for personal listening devices
  • 120 dB – Siren
  • 140-150 dB – Firecrackers

Noises can start causing hearing damage at about 85 dB when experienced over an extended period of time. The higher the decibels, the less time it can take for hearing damage to occur. It may take about 2 hours for damage to occur at 90 dB but at 100 dB, it may only take 14 minutes. At 110 dB, hearing loss is possible in less than 2 minutes.

What can you do to protect your hearing? First, avoid noisy places when you can and keep the volume down when you’re watching TV or listening to music. If you can’t control the noise, try using ear plugs, protective earmuffs or noise canceling headphones. This is especially important if you’re going to be exposed to the noise over a period of time. If you’re not sure whether you should be worried about the noise level where you are, grab this smartphone app and check the decibels for yourself!

Remember that hearing loss from loud noises can be prevented. Once the damage occurs though, it’s permanent so take care of your hearing!



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vital Signs:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Loud Noise Can Cause Hearing Loss:

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, It’s a Noisy Planet: