6 Tips for Remembering Your Child in the Backseat
No caring parent would ever intentionally leave their child in a hot car to suffer heatstroke. Yet, that’s exactly what happens to as many as 53 children in the U.S. each year. Understanding why parents forget their children can help you avoid making this heartbreaking mistake. Here are six tips to help you remember your child in the backseat.
Children Are More Vulnerable to Heatstroke
Many parents don’t realize how quickly children can succumb to heatstroke. Children’s much smaller bodies are more susceptible to high temperatures. A child’s body will overheat three to five times faster than an adult’s. Heatstroke begins when a child’s temperature reaches 104°F, and a child can die if their body temperature reaches 107°.
Most people are also not aware of how fast a car can heat up. Even with the windows cracked, the inside of a car can reach 125° in just minutes on a hot day.
You're a Creature of Habit
You have two types of memory systems: prospective memory and habit memory. Your prospective memory system allows you to store new information and make new plans. Your habit memory system allows you to perform repetitive tasks automatically.
When you drive somewhere on a regular basis, your routine becomes part of your habit memory system. You’ve probably had the experience of arriving at work or somewhere you drive often and not remembering how you got there. That happened because your automatic memory system kicked in.
Most children who die from heatstroke are left in a car by someone who meant to drop them off at daycare or preschool. Despite the fact that all good parents believe this could never happen to them, it’s the most common reason children are left in the backseat. Research by neuroscientists has shown that it can happen to anyone under the right circumstances.
If you’re not normally the one who drops your child off, you’ll use your prospective memory system to handle the new arrangements. But once you start your trip, if you’re going in a familiar direction, your habit memory system may kick in and suppress your prospective memory.
Stress or fatigue can make you more susceptible to having your habit memory system take over. If your child falls asleep in the back seat and doesn’t alert you to their presence, you may get to work, park, and go to work, as usual, forgetting that your child is in the car.
Tips to Remember a Child in the Backseat
Understanding how quickly a car can heat up and how much faster a child’s body can overheat, you’re not likely to leave your child in the car intentionally, even for a short time. However, just knowing the danger isn’t enough to prevent a tragedy. You’ll need to plan ahead to counteract your habit memory system. Here are some ways you avoid accidentally leaving your child in the backseat.
Set Your Phone Alarm
If you’re changing your routine to take your child to school or daycare, set an alarm on your phone for the time you usually arrive at work and label it with your child’s name. If you forget to drop off your child, your alarm will remind you.
Work With Your Child's Caregiver
Ask your child’s daycare provider to call you any time your child doesn’t show up as expected. Make sure they have all of your numbers and ask them to call your work number if they don’t get a response on your cell phone.
Leave Something You'll Need in the Backseat
Put your purse or phone in the backseat next to your child’s car seat. Since it’s something you’re in the habit of carrying, you’ll remember it before you leave the car.
Put a Reminder in the Front Seat
Instead of — or in addition to — putting something in the backseat, put a note or a stuffed animal in the front seat to remind you that your child is in the car. Do this only when you put your child or pet in the car. Any reminder that stays in your car constantly will lose its effectiveness.
Car manufacturers are starting to include audio and visual reminders about backseat occupants. By 2025, almost all new vehicles will include some type of backseat alarm. If you don’t want to wait, there are after-market products you can buy now.
Some sensors work by attaching to the harness of a child’s seat and sending an alert to your smartphone if your child’s temperature gets too high, they’re left in the car seat too long, or they unbuckle their seatbelt.
Other alarms work by attaching to your child’s car seat or diaper bag and activating an alarm on your phone if you walk more than 15 feet away from the device. If the driver keeps moving away, other contacts will automatically receive text message alerts that the child was left in the car.
Never Leave a Child in a Car
Even if you just need to run into a store quickly, take your child with you. Always keep your car locked and your keys out of reach of children. A child can accidentally lock themself in and have a heatstroke before they’re found.
Parents aren’t the only ones who can help prevent accidental heatstroke deaths in children. Babysav is a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about children and pets being left in hot cars. You can order products that are designed to work with and complement other solutions while requiring no activation or monitoring. Even if you don’t have a child or pet, placing a BabySav sticker on the bumper of your car can prevent a tragedy by reminding someone else that they’ve forgotten a precious passenger in the backseat of their car.