By Dex Tuttle
I've often surprised myself by how forgetful I am as a parent. It's possible I'm the only dad who has nearly forgotten that his daughter needs to eat and, more specifically, that he's responsible for making sure that happens. I know for a FACT, however, that I'm not the only dad who has forgotten the diaper bag in the car and been forced to speed-run the grocery shopping to get a stinky child out of the store as fast as possible. On tired days after sleepless nights, I've forgotten that my keys are in the ignition of the car I'm driving and seriously debated being late for work to turn around and go get them.
I'm exposing a vulnerable part of myself a little when I admit this type of fault, but I know I'm not alone. As the injury prevention program coordinator at Children's, I feel even more responsible to be mistake-free in providing a safe environment for my child, and I feel that much more silly when I fail to do so.
When Quinnlyn was learning to walk, she pulled herself up on me as I sat in my "dad chair" in the living room. (I'll admit, realizing that the recliner was a crucial part of fatherhood was a huge part of my excitement for becoming a dad, but I digress.) She grabbed my hands and smiled at her accomplishment. After a few happy moments, she started to turn and walk away, and I forgot that she wasn't yet able to stand on her own. I let go of her hands and down she went, flat on her back. Thankfully, she was OK. She actually laughed it off (her reaction to near-injury that would soon give me anxiety) and got herself back up.
So far, my follies have been rather benign. Still, I live in eternal fear of finding myself in that vulnerable, forgetful moment when something more serious happens.
As the summer ramps into full swing, one such mistake I'm determined NOT to make is forgetting Quinn in the car. This can happen for one of two reasons: we don't realize the danger, or we find ourselves in a moment of distraction and leave out one very important detail.
Let me first convince you that this is extraordinarily dangerous:
- Children have lower water reserves, so their body temperatures rise three to four times faster than an adult.
- The temperature inside a car can rise 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit every 15 minutes (on a 70-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 116 degrees).
- Since 1998, more than 580 children in the United States have died from being left in vehicles.
- In car seats, children are insulated, making it more difficult for their bodies to regulate overheating.
- Signs of hyperthermia set in when body temperature reaches just 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which children will surpass in only a matter of minutes; internal organs can begin to fail at 104 degrees, and death can occur when body temp reaches 107.
- Cracking a window does little to reduce the heat inside a car.
On most days, strapping my daughter into her car seat easily could be the final challenge on a reality game show that tests strength, patience and fortitude. Therefore, I'm admittedly hesitant to take her in and out of the car more than I need. However, you never know what will happen; on an average day, there are so many things that are out of your control and could delay a quick stop or create catastrophic failure of your car's air conditioning. Please take control of what you can and never, ever leave your child unattended in the car.
But as I've already admitted, I'm forgetful. Here are some tips on making sure you don't forget your most-precious package:
- Place an important item in the backseat. My recommendation is to leave your phone there – thus removing a major distraction while driving – but it can be a purse, wallet, computer, jacket or any other item you know you'll need when you arrive at your destination.
- If you don't carry items often and you drive a car with an automatic transmission, take the shoe off the foot you don't use for the pedals and put it in the back seat. This can be a fun game where everyone in the family participates.
- Leave yourself a note on the dashboard: "BABY IN BACK!"
- Put a stuffed animal or doll in the car seat when your child isn't in it. When you strap your kid in for a trip, put the stuffed animal in the seat next to you up front – a reminder that something is out of place.
- If you have a GPS-enabled device, set location reminders when arriving at your favorite locations – the grocery store, work, restaurants, etc.Kars 4 Kidsis developing an app that works with your car's Bluetooth capabilities to remind you as you walk away from the vehicle.
Make arrival habits:
- Always do a walk-around of your vehicle to ensure you're a safe distance from other hazards and make note of items that will help you remember where you parked.
- Always use the passenger-side doors to load and unload for trips. This will force you to walk around the car to collect your items.
- Make a game with your child where you always sing a song, say a phrase, do an activity each time you stop at a destination. Even if your child is sleeping, the habit will keep your mind thinking about the little person in the backseat.
Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.