5 ways to remember your child is in the car
Young children are very vulnerable to heat.
They can’t regulate their body temperature as efficiently as an adult can; their temperature can climb up to five times faster. That puts young children at high risk for heatstroke when they’re left in a car during warm months, when the interior can reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit even if the outside temperature is only in the 50s. While most people think they’d never forget their child, biology can work against even the most diligent parent. Here’s how it can happen.
Everyone has had the experience of making a familiar drive and realizing at the end that they can barely remember the trip. There’s an explanation. Scientists point to the basal ganglia, a part of the brain that is used for routine motor tasks. Generally, it functions at a level below conscious thought and analysis, which are handled by the prefrontal cortex. Conscious awareness and memories are formed in another region, the hippocampus.
They normally work together efficiently, but when they don’t, the result can be catastrophic. Fatigue, poor health, physical and emotional stress, a change in routine, and other factors can overwhelm both the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus — putting the basal ganglia in charge and short-circuiting memory and awareness — causing the person to go on autopilot and forget his or her plans.
That’s likely what’s behind many instances of pediatric vehicular heatstroke. It turns out that 44% of such incidents happened when the parent or caregiver had meant to drop the child off at day care or preschool and simply forgot the child was in the car once their unconscious routine took over.
Bypass Your Brain
While you can’t eliminate stress or fatigue, there are ways to help jog your memory when you have a child in the car. Use one of these fail-safes to help avoid a tragedy.
- Put a personal item you’ll need soon, such as your phone, one of the shoes you are wearing, or your purse or briefcase next to your child. This will help keep you focused and/or help you discover the issue more quickly when you try to use the item and realize it is in the car.
- Keep a large stuffed toy in the child’s car seat when it’s empty. Put it in the passenger seat when your child is in the car to remind you of the child’s presence.
- Set up an agreement with your preschool or day care provider to have them call you if the child does not arrive as scheduled. Make sure they have all your cell, landline, and work numbers.
- If there is more than one parent or caregiver on the trip, designate who will remove the child from the car.
- If there is a change in your childcare routine, such as new role in drop-off duties, make it a point to call the other parent to confirm drop-off.
The sheer number of demands on your time and memory can overwhelm your thinking. Set up safeguards to keep children in the backseat out of harm’s way.
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