Rarely does a few days go by without our hearing a news flash concerning a child left sweltering in a hot car. According to the National Safety Council, more than 716 children have died in vehicles from heatstroke in the United States since 1998, which is an average of 37 children per year.

Approximately 28 percent of the kids climbed in the cars by themselves and couldn’t get out. Sadly, almost 17 percent were intentionally left in the vehicles by their caregivers. However, more than 54 percent of those fatalities happened because the children were forgotten…. sometimes for hours.

So, how does a loving, responsible parent completely forget about their child in the backseat? This disturbing phenomenon happens to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders. A mother, father, grandparent, or babysitter can be a scatterbrain or an obsessive fanatic – all with varying levels of education.

Caregivers can be easily distracted by a myriad of things such as a call on their cellphones, running late for work or an appointment, or simply confused by a change in their normal routine. Parents dealing with family issues or being upset over a co-parenting situation can easily get sidetracked or have a lapse in memory.

Occasionally, a caregiver may leave a sleeping child in the car while they run inside a store for a quick errand. However, a car is like an instant greenhouse and quickly heats up – even in the shade or cooler temperatures. Children are at much higher risk for heatstroke than adults, so just a few minutes in a hot car can be fatal.

Here are some tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to avoid unintentionally leaving your child in a hot car:

  • Place your purse, briefcase, or even a shoe in the backseat with your child so that you’ll remember to check the backseat before locking up.
  • Place a stuffed animal in the empty car seat. Move it to the front seat when you place your child in the car seat as a reminder that your child is still back there.
  • Set a reminder on your cellphone. You can even download a baby reminder app on your smartphone.
  • Write yourself a note and stick it on the dashboard.
  • Ask the daycare to call you if your child doesn’t show up within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Arrange for your spouse to call you if you are habitually forgetful or stray from your normal routine.

Finally, if you see a baby or child left alone in hot vehicle call 911 immediately. If possible, try to get them out as quickly as possible. If they are in distress from the heat and need to be cooled down, use cool water – not ice.

If you or someone you know is under a great deal of stress, dealing with challenging issues, or having a hard time staying focused, please seek the help of a family therapist or mental health professional. A qualified professional can provide insight and make objective suggestions while helping you work toward specific goals to bring balance back into your life.

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