How do I choose glasses for my child?

Smiling child surrounded by eyeglasses

In ordinary circumstances, you wouldn’t give a young child a fragile, expensive item to carry around with them every day, but if they wear glasses, that’s exactly what you have to do. 

If you do your homework and choose the right pair, however, you can select durable glasses that are less likely to break or be damaged by high-energy, rambunctious childhood activities.

Finding such a high-quality pair of kids’ glasses isn’t difficult these days since there are so many options to choose from and places where you can shop. The challenge is understanding which features your child can benefit from most, such as flexible or bendable frames, scratch-resistant coatings and impact-resistant lenses.

Here are some key factors to consider when shopping for kids’ glasses:

What lens material is best?

One big fear that many parents have is that their active child will have an accident that causes their eyeglass lenses to shatter. Luckily, children’s glasses can be made with impact-resistant materials to protect their eyes in the event of a playground mishap.

The two main types to consider are polycarbonate and Trivex, says Kerry Gelb, optometrist and president of ALLDocs (the Association of LensCrafters Leaseholding Doctors). 

“Polycarbonate is a little softer and scratches a little bit easier, but it’s a tiny bit safer,” Gelb says. “Trivex provides better overall vision and is also impact-resistant.”

Either type works well for children or people who tend to be less careful with their glasses, he says. What you want to avoid are cheap glass or plastic lenses that are less safe.

In addition to the material of the lenses, you should consider a scratch-resistant coating. While scratches can’t be entirely prevented, this will add an extra layer of protection.

Another option to consider is photochromic lenses, frequently referred to as Transitions lenses, the most popular brand in the field. These are good for when kids play outside since the lenses will get lighter or darker based on how bright it is outside. 

If it seems like your child is always looking at a screen (their smartphone, tablet, computer or video game system), you also can ask about lenses designed to block or filter blue light, which some studies have shown can cause eye strain.

How do I choose children’s glasses frames?

For some kids, wearing glasses might make them feel self-conscious -- so invite a child to help pick out his or her own glasses. 

“If they don’t like the way they look, they can feel bad,” says Gelb, and that might cause them to take their glasses off when you’re not around.

If you let your child choose their own frames, their own look, they’re more likely to feel comfortable wearing them and keep them on.

It’s also important to work with a professional who can make sure the glasses fit properly to the face, he adds. This ensures the glasses don’t look or feel awkward, and that your child will actually benefit from their prescription.

For younger kids, consider a frame with cables around the ears to keep the glasses in place and your child looking through the proper part of the lens. 

“If the center of the lens is not matching up with a child’s pupillary distance, the child may be under eye strain and not realize it, which could affect schoolwork, sports, mood and more,” Gelb says.

Once you have the right fit, Gelb recommends going for flexible frames with spring hinges that help prevent the sides from snapping off. It’s a good investment that can help the glasses last longer, he says. 

Some kids’ frames — designed without hinges — are made of one piece of soft, flexible plastic, making them especially suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

For slightly older kids, titanium frames make for stylish and durable glasses. 

“If you use a metal frame, you want it to be titanium,” Gelb says. 

Other less expensive metal frames may use nickel or other materials that can cause kids with sensitive skin to have a reaction. 

You also can go with plastic frames, which could save you a little bit of money — just be sure to talk to the optician about how durable they are. 

“Poorly made frames can shatter or break and cause an eye or facial injury,” Gelb says.

Whether you go with plastic or metal, try to choose frames that allow leeway for sudden movements and rough handling.

SEE RELATED: Eyeglass frame materials: Metal, plastic and unusual

What are sports goggles?

If your child plays high-contact sports and needs to wear glasses during those activities, sports goggles are a smart investment to help protect their eyes, Gelb says.

Typically made with shatter-proof polycarbonate lenses, sports goggles have padding around them in case of impact and adjustable straps to get the perfect fit.

Overall, glasses for kids aren’t that expensive unless there’s a complex eye problem, says Gelb, so it’s worth getting a high-quality pair if you can. 

Start with a thorough eye exam, and have your child’s glasses fitted by a specialist. 

One more tip: Ask about warranties for the glasses you purchase so you know your options should your child’s glasses break or get scratched. And if you can swing it, consider getting a backup pair, just in case.

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