One Saturday morning, my husband brought my six-year-old daughter home from a morning soccer game. When they got home, she had the door open, ready to hop out of the car. So, he hit the lock button on the key fob, knowing it would lock up after she closed her door. He wasn’t expecting her to close the door while she was still inside. And even if she did, she’s six years old, so she should be able to get out, right?
A few minutes after they got home, I ran out to my car to get my phone, which I’d accidentally left in the car the night before. I walked by my husband’s car and saw my little girl sobbing inside, banging on the window to get my attention. Seeing my daughter locked in the car, sobbing, with no idea how to get out, made my heart stop. What if I hadn’t left my phone in the car the night before? What if we just assumed she had come in and was in the basement watching TV or in the backyard playing on her own and didn’t realize she was missing?
Seeing my daughter locked in the car, sobbing, with no idea how to get out, made my heart stop.
I quickly ran back inside to get the keys to that car and unlock it, letting her out. Thankfully, it had only been a few minutes and the day hadn’t gotten too hot yet. She had gotten really scared and took a minute or two and a lot of hugs to calm down, but she was OK.
We’ve only had my husband’s car for about a month. The kids are such pros at getting in and out of our other cars that it never occurred to me that our daughter might not know how to get out of our new car. But, with many newer cars, the design of the door locks can be subtle and a little hidden. In fact, it took me a moment of looking at the door handle area to find the lock and I understood why my daughter got panicky.
Take five minutes to show your kids how to unlock all of your vehicles.
After my daughter calmed down, I took my kids out to our cars and did what I hope you’ll do with your young children today. Take five minutes to show your kids how to unlock all of your vehicles. Even if you think they probably already know how. I showed my kids how to unlock the locks on the car doors that are closest to their seats. And, I showed them how to use the unlock button by the driver’s seat. I explained to them that most cars have a similar button by the driver’s seat, so that even if they are in an unfamiliar car, they will always know how to get out. It only takes a few minutes, and if it can keep your son or daughter safe, that few minutes is so worth it!
The kids we hear about most often who are left in hot cars are infants or toddlers strapped into car seats that can’t get out by themselves. I thought my older children would be out of the worry window for this particular parenting nightmare. However, 13% of kids who have died from heatstroke in vehicles in the US over the last 18 years are four years old or older. So, while the bulk of kids who are at-risk are young children in restraints that they cannot unlatch by themselves, it can still be a danger for preschoolers and early-elementary-age children like my kindergartener.
The top reasons for heatstroke death in vehicles are children playing in cars and children accidentally left behind. Teach your kids that cars are not safe play spaces.
As a great reminder to not forget about young children in child restraints who can’t get out on their own, leave something you need in the backseat right by your baby or toddler – I usually put my purse on the floor in front of our littlest’s car seat. For other great tips on how to keep your kids safe, check out this link.