It's important for kids to wear helmets when participating in active sports such as indoor rock climbing. The helmets designed for children are made specifically for the type of sport or activity. For example, a child's climbing helmet is designed to the EN 12492, Snell N-94 climbing and mountaineering helmet standard. This means it is designed to protect the head for the specific type of bumps and impacts associated with a climbing fall. Children's helmets made for skiing and snowboarding are designed to the ASTM F2040, CE 1077, Snell RS-98 or S-98 standard. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, "Different activities require different helmets, and there are helmets for every season's sports". The NHTSA(1) provided an effectiveness estimate that 85 to 88% of head and brain injuries could be prevented by correctly wearing the appropriate helmet for the sport or activity.
Types of Child Helmets
There are many types of helmets, and the manufacturers usually designs several models for children. Look for a label or marking on the inside of the child helmet that shows which standard it complies with. Some comply with more than one standard and therefore can be used with more than one sport. The US CPSA(2) lists many helmets with the applicable manufacturer's safety standard for various sports in which children might participate:
Fitting a Child's Helmet(2)(3)
- It should fit level on the head. There should be a space of one to two finger-widths above the eyebrow.
- The helmet straps should meet in a “V” beneath the child's ears, and buckled with no more than two fingers' space between the chin and the strap.
- It should not slide on the child's head more than an inch in any direction.
Fit of a Helmet vs Child's Growth
Most child helmets are built with an adjustment for growth. This is also useful for wear over a beanie in extreme cold conditions. Other children's helmets may have several sets of foam fitting pads. If this is the type of adjustment provided they can be replaced using thinner pads as your child grows. The pads are only a spacer for fitting. They do not change the level of protection provided by the helmet.(4)
When to Replace a Child's Helmet.
There are three factors to consider. 1) fit, 2) severity of impact, 3) helmet design is a single-impact or multiple-impact type.
- Fit. When the child has outgrown the adjustment mechanism on the helmet, it is time to be replaced.
- Impact. A crash or fall which the helmet was not impacted or was very minimally contacted may not require replacement of the helmet. However a severe impact may require replacement. This is determined by inspection.
- Single, or multiple-impact design. An example of a single-impact helmet is a bicycle helmet. They are designed to protect against a single severe impact. The inner foam material in the helmet should crush to absorb the impact energy during a fall or collision. If the foam has been crushed for any reason it can no longer provide protection. Multiple-impact helmets are designed to protect against more than one moderate impact. An example of a multiple-impact helmet is the football helmet or ice hockey helmet. It may be necessary to replace the helmet after an extremely severe impact. Regardless of the helmet type or rating, replace the helmet if it has any visible damage. The manufacturer provides inspection instructions when the helmet is purchased. This guidance should be used to determine if a helmet should be replaced.(4)
References: (1) NHTSA: http://www.nhtsa.gov; (2) CPSA: http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/117293/349.pdff; (3) NHTSA: How to Fit a Child's Helmet; (4) Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute: http://www.bhsi.org/childpam.htm.