It’s the stuff of parenting nightmares. A mom-of-three in Columbus, Ohio, wrote a blog post recently detailing how a few moments of distraction resulted in her toddler being left in a hot car for 10 minutes. Now she’s encouraging parents to teach their kids basic car safety in case they find themselves in a similar situation.
Amy Amos was returning from the local pool with her kids when her four-year-old, Henry, wound up left behind in the car.
“I was carrying in wet towels and swim trunks, my wallet, keys, the camera, a lens that I was worried about dropping, *and* I’m pregnant with twins and had to pee,” she writes. “My older kids were also walking inside, he wasn’t even alone.”
After 10 minutes in the house, however, Amos realized that she didn’t hear Henry’s voice. A frantic search of the entire home with the help of her other children led her to check the car, where she found her toddler “sweating and sobbing with his face pressed against the window.”
“It turns out that as we walked inside earlier, he was laying on the floor of the car looking for his lost flip flop. One of the other kids thought he had already gotten out and that he had just left his car door open, so she closed it, trying to be helpful.”
Amos is using her experience to advise parents to teach their children car safety tips, like how to open car doors from the inside or to honk the horn to draw attention to the car. She said she would dedicate some time to teach Henry those basics, as well as special car features like a button that unlocks the hatch, and how to unbuckle and pull himself out of his car seat.
“It should be something that preschool kids are taught, just like we tell them what to do in case of a house fire,” she writes. “We have fire drills. Why not car escape drills?”
While Vancouver-based parenting expert Julie Romanowski, who specializes in children’s behaviour, says it’s important to teach toddlers these skills, parents shouldn’t expect too much from them.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” she tells Global News. “Yes, you want to teach kids about safety, but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on teaching a toddler safety practices because they’re not focused enough.”
She says in a moment of crisis, the chances are much higher that a toddler will panic and forget anything they’ve been shown in the past.
“With a toddler, my number 1 piece of advice is to teach them emotional protocols as well as safety ones. Show them how to pull the handle on a car door, but also teach them that if they find themselves in a panic, to take 10 seconds to breathe and tell themselves that it’s going to be OK. Coping and problem-solving skills are even more important than numeracy and literacy,” she says.
Accidentally leaving a child in a hot car should not be an opportunity to chastise a parent, either. (Although several commenters on Amos’s blog thought it was their duty to do so.)
“[Some] women deserve gold medals for living a life in pure chaos and getting by,” Romanowski says. “But that chaos will cause trouble. It’s not that they’re not doing a good job, but it’s no way to live.”
According to NoHeatStroke.org, 32 children in the United States have died from being left in a hot car in 2017, and over 700 children have died since 1998. Of these deaths, 28 per cent were due to kids playing unattended in a vehicle. (There are no Canadian statistics on this.)
“You have to be on all the time with young kids; you can’t pack on an overwhelming list of things to do because you’ll get into a chaotic state,” Romanowski says.
She advises continuing to make children a priority even when they’re out of their baby phase and seemingly display independent leanings. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
“It’s hard to ask for help because it’s unveiling vulnerability — especially for women — but you’re not supposed to do it all by yourself.”
She also says that just as most households schedule after-school activities and chores on a large calendar, parents should also pencil in time for themselves.
“Actually schedule in time for yourself, time for some breathing room, and one-on-one time with your child,” she advises. “Fit those three things in on most days and you’ll see how things will change.”