We have all seen the news headlines, “Father of toddler is arrested after child is left in hot car and dies” and “Another hot car death“. We all gasp at how horrible it is to leave your child alone in a car, especially in the heat. And we are right, it is horrible, but it could happen to anyone. Recognizing that it is totally possible to get distracted and forget that your child is in the car is the first step to preventing such a tragedy.
“Memory is a machine, and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child,” says David Diamond, a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida. “The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weak to resist,” Diamond said.
Many of us have wondered how a parent can forget their child in the car and just go to work. Well, Janette Fennell, who runs the Kansas City-based non-profit organization Kids and Cars, told the Washington Post
“Some people think, ‘Okay, I can see forgetting a child for two minutes, but not eight hours.’ What they don’t understand is that the parent in his or her mind has dropped off the baby at daycare and thinks the baby is happy and well taken care of. Once that’s in your brain, there is no reason to worry or check on the baby for the rest of the day.”
Starting to see how maybe it can happen to anyone? Researchers have searched through the data and found no consistent profile for parents that leave their children in cars by accident. It can happen to an absentminded parent and a super focused type-A parent all the same. No one is immune to forgetfulness.
So what is a parent to do in order to prevent this from happening to them? Well, there are some very easy, small steps you can take to make sure your child doesn’t end up as another headline.
- Leave something important, like one of your shoes, your wallet, your briefcase, or your cell phone (you shouldn’t be on it in the car anyway) in the back seat with your child.
- Install mirrors so that you can see your child with your rear view mirror.
- Place a photo of your child somewhere on your window or dashboard to trigger your memory.
- If you do something routinely like drop your child off at daycare, set an alarm on your phone at drop off time.
- If you are doing something outside of your normal routine, have your partner, significant other, or friend call or text to remind you.
So what do you do if you come across a child locked in a car? Well, GET THEM OUT! If the child is responsive, take a photo with your cell phone to show that the child was inside the car (proof), then try to open the door. If the door is locked, go to a window AWAY from the child and break it (for instance, if the child is in the rear passenger seat, break the driver side front window). Then immediately call 911, follow the operator’s instruction, and wait with the child until the police arrive. If the child is not responsive, break the glass immediately, call 911, and follow the operator’s instruction to help the child. Whatever you do DO NOT remove the child from the area.
If we all just recognize that, as human beings, we are at risk of being forgetful, and we take the steps to protect both our own children and those around us, we can prevent more of these senseless deaths.
What other tips do you have for reminding yourself to check the back seat?
Check out the website KidsandCars.org for more great safety tips.