When our daughters were young, I had a nagging fear that I’d forget them in the car.
On most days, it was my husband who dropped them off at daycare. Every once in awhile, though, he’d have an early morning meeting and I would take them. The girls would usually fall asleep in the car, and in the stillness and quiet of the morning, I would drift into my pre-work routine of planning out my day. Maybe I’d think through that day’s meetings, make a mental grocery list, plan out dinner. I had traveled my route to work for so many years that I would go into automatic pilot and have to deliberately remind myself to turn left for daycare rather than right for work when leaving my neighborhood.
Whenever I hear a tragic news story of a child who was left in the car when a parent forgot to take him to daycare, it strikes me at the core. The fatal distraction could have been me — a conscientious, loving parent — whose daily routine was thrown off track.
The website, noheatstroke.org, reported on Aug. 5 that our nation has had 26 heatstroke deaths of children left in cars so far this year. It goes on to say that the average is 37. Two-thirds of the heating takes place within the first 20 minutes, when the internal car temperature can rise as much as 29 degrees, according to a published report by Pediatrics in 2005. In addition to the crushing grief and guilt, a parent who has lost a child to a tragedy like this knows that it was a preventable situation.
Parents and caregivers can take some measures to help prevent leaving a child in the car unintentionally:
• Always, always do a “look back” whether or not the children are with you. That helps you to get into the routine of checking the back seat.
• Place in the backseat the things you need to take with you to work — such as a purse, briefcase or even a shoe.
• Keep a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat. Move it to the front when you put your child in the car seat — that may signal to you that the animal is supposed to be in the car seat.
• Set a ringing reminder on your phone.
• Ask your childcare provider to call you and your emergency contacts if the child is not at daycare on a day when he or she is expected to be there. It should follow the same practice as if it were a medical emergency, so that a message is communicated to a person, not an answering machine.
Our children are the most precious cargo that any of us will ever transport. These simple tips may be helpful in keeping your child safe this summer and every summer. And, if you’re a bystander who sees that a child has been left in a car, call 911 immediately. It takes each of us to keep our community’s children safe.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.