How to Find the Right Bike Helmet for Your Child

Grandpa putting helmet on granddaughter

Tom Werner / Getty Images

Riding bikes around the neighborhood with friends is a timeless childhood activity. But even though children learn how to ride at a young age, falling off a bike can still cause serious injury. Fortunately, there are bike helmets specifically designed to minimize these risks. Here’s what you need to know about picking out the right helmet for your child.

Why Are Bike Helmets Important?

Bike helmets prevent dangerous head injuries. “Helmets are designed to absorb energy during a crash to prevent or lessen injury to the head and brain,” explains Cassandra Herring, the director of child occupant protection at Safe Kids Worldwide. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that bike helmets reduce the risk of bicycle-related head injuries by about 80%.

This protective benefit is especially important for children whose brains are still growing and developing. “Brain injuries can be serious for all of us, but children are still developing and these types of injuries, especially Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), can have many effects,” says Herring. A TBI is considered any injury that affects how the brain works. A bump, blow, or jolt to the head (such as hitting the head on the ground after falling off a bike) is the most common cause of TBIs.

According to a review published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, experiencing a TBI during early childhood can lead to problems with externalizing behaviors, attention, language, and executive cognitive functioning. These negative effects can persist for up to 16 years after the injury. “TBIs can vary in severity and the more severe could lead to severe disability and death,” Herring adds.

Choosing a Bike Helmet

Equally as important as simply wearing a helmet is wearing one that fits properly. “A properly fitted helmet is the most effective way to prevent a head injury resulting from a bicycle crash,” says Herring. “If the helmet is too loose and falls off, it will not adequately protect the head and brain. If a helmet is too small, it may not cover all of the child’s head and may result in injury.”

The first step to choosing a bike helmet is finding one that is certified by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to meet their standards, which the manufacturer of the helmet should make clear. “When it’s time to buy a new helmet, let your children pick out their own,” adds Herring. “They’ll be more likely to wear it for every ride.”

Find the Right Size

There are a number of ways to tell whether a helmet is fitting your child properly. “A helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position, and should not rock forward, backward, or side to side,” Herring says. “The helmet straps must always be buckled, but not too tightly.”

While the names for helmet sizes will differ from brand to brand, the best way to ensure you choose the right size is to measure the circumference of your child’s head and find the helmet size with a corresponding circumference range.

From there, Safe Kids Worldwide recommends kids take their three-step Helmet Fit Test. First is the eyes check. “Position the helmet on their head. Look up and they should see the bottom rim of the helmet. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows,” explains Herring.

Next is the ears check. “Make sure the straps of the helmet form a 'V' under the ears when buckled,” Herring says. “The strap should be snug but comfortable.”

The final step is the mouth check, in which you have your child open their mouth as wide as they can and ask if they feel the helmet hug their head. “If not, tighten those straps and make sure the buckle is flat against the skin,” says Herring.

Consider the Activity

Children should wear helmets for any wheeled activity, not just riding their bikes. According to the CPSC, there are different types of helmets for different activities that are specifically designed to protect the head from the most common crashes and impacts that occur. Bike helmets will provide adequate protection for riding a scooter, as well as roller skating or in-line skating.

But if your kids also ride a skateboard or longboard, they should have a CPSC-certified skateboarding helmet for those activities. Those helmets tend to cover more of the back of the head (since backward falls are much more common in skateboarding than biking).

The same goes for BMX cycling, for which they should have a BMX helmet, and downhill mountain biking, for which they should have a downhill helmet.

What Is a MIPS Helmet?

If you’ve noticed a small yellow decal with the word “MIPS” on the back of certain helmets, this means that the helmet is equipped with the MIPS safety system. This is an extra layer inside the helmet that’s been adopted by many brands. It's designed to provide added protection to your child's head, specifically against the rotational motion that occurs in many bike accidents. These types of injuries can be more severe than straight-on collisions.

The company put the MIPS helmets through rigorous testing and found that the helmets do provide more protection than non-MIPS helmets. That said, they also tend to be more expensive. Remember that all CPSC-certified helmets endure thorough testing to ensure they are providing adequate protection against brain injuries. While it certainly can’t hurt to get a MIPS helmet, you can rest assured that every CPSC-certified helmet is going to protect your child.

Do Bike Helmets Expire?

In short, yes, they do expire (just like car seats). “Check with the manufacturer of the helmet or the owner’s manual for the expiration date,” suggests Herring. She recommends replacing helmets every five years. If your child outgrows the helmet or is wearing it during a crash, you should replace it immediately. Manufacturers will often recommend replacing helmets after they have been involved in an accident.

A Word From Verywell

Bike helmets are critical to protecting your child from head and brain injuries that can damage their developing brain. Almost as important as simply wearing a helmet is wearing one that fits properly, so make sure your child’s helmet fits snugly and is neither too big nor too small. You should also consider the activities they are taking part in most often and choose a helmet specifically designed to protect them from the injuries most likely to occur in their sport.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Program Performance and Evaluation Office. Bicycle Helmet Usage and Head Injury Prevention.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion."

  3. Garcia D, Hungerford GM, Bagner DM. Topical review: negative behavioral and cognitive outcomes following traumatic brain injury in early childhood. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 2015;40(4):391-397.

  4. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Which Helmet for Which Activity?

  5. Mips. "Mips helmet technology."