How to Choose a Bike Helmet for a Toddler or Child [Essential Tips]

[Updated 3/15/13]

All bike helmets sold have to meet CPSC standards, whether they cost $15 or $50. Studies by the Bike Helmet Safety Institute showed that “the very expensive helmets and the very cheap helmets …have about the same impact protection” (source).

The most important factor in bike helmet safety is how it fits, and that’s something you’ll have to take make sure of yourself. That’s why it’s best to buy in-store where you can try the helmet on your child or buy from an online source that offers easy returns.


  • The helmet should sit level on the head.
  • It should cover the forehead down to one or two finger widths above the eyebrows.
  • The chin strap should be tightened so that the left buckle is under the chin and no more than finger widths fit under the strap.

Find more guidelines for fit at the NHTSA site and at the Bike Helmet Safety Institute site (BHSI).

Other Features to look for

  • Ventilation
  • Smooth, rounded exterior
  • Be sure that the helmet is not too heavy for a toddler
  • From the BHSI: “Helmets for children transported in child seats or trailers should never be the “aero” shape, since the tail hits the back of the seat and forces the child’s head downward. You may have to put a cushion behind the child’s back to prevent this.”

Good news for money-conscious parents: The BHSI says, “The higher priced helmets have big vents, but no verifiable advantage in impact performance. Our testing showed that the sample of very expensive helmets and very cheap helmets we tested had about the same impact protection.”

Giro Me2: $20 to $30 (shown above)

Schwinn Thrasher: about $20

Bell Trigger, Dart or Fraction: $30 to $40. Fraction shown at right. NOTE: Walmart carries several Bell youth helmets under $20.

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  1. Aimee says:

    We love the Giro helmets! Another plus is that they are mostly flat on the back so they don’t interfere with riding in the bike trailer. And when your kids grows out of the Me2 I HIGHLY recommend the Rascal! No adusting! Fits perfect. Plus it has a flashing LED light on the back… I haven’t quite figured out when we would need that since at that age they are on the sidewalk or in a trailer but it is a nice feature.

  2. Anitra says:

    Quick tip: start your kids with helmets as soon as they’re on any kind of bike (whether with you on a special seat, in a trailer, or on their own little trike or balance bike). Don’t use “they’re just riding around in the backyard” as an excuse not to use the helmet. They need to wear one every time, so it does not become an argument when they get bigger.

    Also, parents: If you are riding a bike, YOU need a helmet, too! If you’re not concerned for your own safety, at least wear one to be a good example for your kids.

  3. Melissa says:

    We got the Giro Me2 for our 16 month old and it’s great! He hates hats but really didn’t complain much about the helmet. The adjustment is very easy and it really shrinks down small, but I’m confident he’ll get a few years of wear out of it. Great recommendation.