This Is One Parenting Rule You Must Never Break

These days, parents seem to be juggling more responsibilities than ever, and there never seem to be enough hours in the day.

On top of working and caring for our families, we often have a list of errands that must be fit into our schedules – and doing anything with the kids in tow is always just a little more of a challenge.

When our children are out and about with us, we can become distracted or try to cut corners to save a little time in our hectic schedules.  But there is something parents should never, ever do when our small children are with us.

Instances of small children being harmed because of being left unattended in the car seem to be on the rise as busy parents try to get everything done.  So when is it safe to leave a child in a vehicle unattended, and what is the law?

As Café Mom recently reported, the first thing to remember is that it is never safe to leave very young children unattended in a vehicle – not even for a moment.  One mom made this mistake and it almost cost her children their lives.

After filling up her tank, the unnamed mom left her 3-year-old and 1-year-old in the car while she paid in the store. While she was gone, one of her kids unbuckled himself or herself and shifted the van’s gears into reverse.

The van’s impact caused the pump to break from the base and erupt in flames. Luckily, a stranger saw the toddlers in the car and saved them from the fire before their car became engulfed in flames.

“We hear about this all the time. Unfortunately, parents just get busy and are running into the pay for gas or the bank, or whatever, and it happens more often than we like,” said Daphne Greenlee, manager of Mercy Injury Prevention, according to KY3. “The inconvenience that can happen does not outweigh the child’s safety.”

According to Lisa Cox, a spokesperson for Springfield Police, they aren’t ruling out the possibility that charges could be filed against the mom because it’s a crime to leave children unattended in a car — for this exact reason. However, she noted that it’s still too early in the investigation to comment further.

State laws vary on this subject, but common sense must dictate that parents should always remember it’s “better to be safe than sorry.”

Nineteen states currently have laws on the books that state young children cannot be left unattended in a vehicle for any period of time.  Other states have age regulations for leaving older children alone for brief periods of time, and others allow for older children of a certain age to remain in the car with younger ones.

Since each state law is different – and each child is different in their maturity and knowledge of what to do in an emergency – parents need to familiarize themselves with their home state’s laws in regard to leaving children alone in a vehicle.

Children are curious and naive about the dangers that can occur when they are innocently investigating their surroundings.  Several tragedies have occurred where children have been injured or even killed, due to a parent leaving a child briefly unattended in or around a vehicle.

Some busy parents think it is acceptable to leave kids in the car while they run in to pay for gas or quickly buy a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread.  But the reality is, it only takes an instant for a child to get themselves into a dangerous situation.

Older toddlers can unbuckle car seats and move the vehicle out of gear, or climb out a door or open window and wander off.  Children have also been killed when they climbed out of a vehicle unbeknownst to their parent and have tragically been backed over before the parent realizes they are not secured in the back seat.

Some parents even think it’s “easier” to leave their little ones alone in the car briefly while they run into the store because they are asleep in their car seat and the parent doesn’t want to wake them.

But in this day and age, it is incredibly dangerous to leave children unattended as it only takes a moment for them to be put in danger – or for a stranger to kidnap them and disappear before the parent returns to the vehicle.

No matter what the situation, the best practice is to never leave a child unsupervised in public, and many experts agree children should accompany adults any time they leave the vehicle until about the ages of twelve or thirteen.  Even at that age, they should be left alone only if they display the maturity and ability to help themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.

Café Mom reported on some guidelines from the experts:

If your child is in a car seat, they shouldn’t be alone. “Children in car seats are not ready to help themselves and should never be left alone in a car — not even for one minute,” Walker says. “As we’ve seen too often, it’s easy to be distracted even when paying for gas or entering the dry cleaners.”

Ask yourself, “Would my older children recognize that they were sick and overheated and know what to do?” “If your children would do something like lay on a floor, cry, or wait for help, then they’re not ready to be left alone without an adult in a car,” Walker warns. “Or if your children don’t know how to get out of a car on their own — many children who climb into an unlocked car do not know to climb into the front seat and open the doors without child locks on them — then, again, they are not ready to be left alone.”

Ask yourself, “If my children did get out of the car, would they know how to safely find an adult to get help?” It’s not enough to get themselves out of the car. You want to make sure they won’t get hit by a car in a parking lot or head off in a direction away from help.

“If you believe your children could safely exit the car, navigate a parking lot, avoid the potential danger from strangers, and find help, then you might be ready to test their behavior to make sure they are absolutely ready to do this task without you,” Walker says. “Test it out while you’re able to observe them to be sure they are following the appropriate steps that you taught them.”

The experts also say that apart from following the laws of your state, the most important thing a parent needs to do to keep their child safe while out is to follow your instincts.

You know your child best – their strengths and weaknesses and their understanding of safety procedures and awareness of their surroundings.

It is also a good idea to have a safety plan in place that your family practices on a regular basis.  Even if we never plan to leave our children unattended in a vehicle, emergencies can occur.  A grandparent or other family member could have a medical emergency while driving, or a babysitter or other caregiver may not realize the dangers and leave your child temporarily unsupervised.

Children should be taught early what to do – and how to contact a parent or the authorities – if they ever find themselves unsupervised in a vehicle or if the driver of the vehicle becomes incapacitated.

The best advice is to take your children with you any time you exit your vehicle.  It is never worth risking the safety of your child to save a few moments of time.

Have you taught your children how to stay safe in a vehicle and how to contact help if they find themselves in a dangerous situation in the car?  Leave us your advice in the comments!





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