Many of us react in shock at the very thought of this. We probably like to think that accidentally leaving children in cars is something that only happens to others.
Except, of course, it isn’t! It can happen to absolutely anyone.
The accidental leaving of children in cars
Intentionally leaving a child in a car is one thing, though many would argue that for children below a certain age, that is always a very bad idea. Even if you only intend to be a few minutes and your children are perfectly secure and comfortable, there are always huge risks in doing so.
Cars have been stolen with young children in the back (some thieves just don’t care) and parents have been known to be taken ill or involved in an incapacitating accident while away. It’s an appalling thought but intentional abduction is always a potential problem too.
So, leaving children in cars unaccompanied is always best avoided if you can.
Accidentally leaving your children behind may sound comical and perhaps unthinkable for you, yet it really does happen and surprisingly regularly – even with the most responsible of parents.
Why children get accidentally left in cars
The causes behind this are very well known:
- stress, meaning essentially that your mind is on many other things;
- illness, meaning that emotionally your senses, including memory, may not be working well;
- you’re naturally ‘absent-minded’. Some of us just are;
- distractions – you’ve perhaps just received a critically important phone call as you were about to leave the car;
- drugs (prescribed or not) and alcohol (or its after-effects);
- routine changes – this is typically associated with a parent filling a child care role and task (e.g. the school run) normally undertaken by their partner. In earlier times with gender role assumptions, this was commonly known as the “forgetful father syndrome”.
This list is by no means exhaustive.
What you can do about it
There is no single solution.
Some people have resorted to putting post-it notes onto their dashboards saying “don’t forget the kids in the back” but there are more practical options, including:
- use a mnemonic chant or song. Make sure every time you leave the car you say something along the lines of “lights, keys, briefcase/bag, phone, kids”;
- switch your phone off while driving, even if you have hands-free options. This is a good safety practice anyway but it’ll reduce the risks of your stress levels rising or distractions due to calls – both of which can affect memory;
- make a point of always opening your back door and glancing inside to check for things you might have forgotten – including your children;
- keep a toy on the front passenger seat. You’ll be likely to see it when you stop and get ready to leave the car;
- never leave the car while engaged in an ongoing and demanding phone call. It’s just too distracting. The same applies if you’re texting or looking up something on your phone’s net connections;
- don’t drive at all and particularly not with young children, if you’re feeling unwell due to illness or medication. That of course also applies to the after-effects of alcohol.
Could it happen to you?
The accidental leaving of children in cars is surprisingly common, though inevitably many may feel very reluctant to admit they have done so. In fact, it has even happened on trains.
Taking some of the above steps might help prevent it happening to you.