The tragic story of Cooper Harris, a Georgia toddler whose father left him in a hot car all day, has yielded a criminal prosecution and a national debate about kids and cars. Some media pundits and parenting experts have pointed to so-called “forgotten baby syndrome.” Forgotten baby syndrome isn’t an actual disease or mental health condition that you’ll find listed in psychiatry’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). However, the fact that 623 children have died of heat stroke in hot cars on warm days since 1998 suggests that forgetting children in cars is a real problem.
Why Parents Forget Their Children
Most parents now put their children in the backseat, with babies facing the rear, to minimize their risks of injury in a car accident. This positive parenting practice, though, means that parents may not interact with their children during a car ride and that they may not even be able to see their children. The tendency of most parents to be overwhelmed and distracted increases the chances that a child in the backseat will slip the parent’s mind.
When we drive our cars, prepare food, and complete other routine, everyday tasks, our brains go into auto-pilot. This means many parents are not consciously thinking about their children while driving them to and from daycare or activities, instead they may be thinking through the day to come. And deviating from a standard routine makes it easy to forget that the child is there at all. One recent study found that 11% of all parents have forgotten their children, and 1 in 4 parents of children under age 3 have accidentally left their child in a car.
How to Avoid Forgetting Your Child
If you’re concerned about forgetting your child, the key is to jar your brain out of auto-pilot. When something’s out of place, it’s hard for your mind to continue working unconsciously. Put something that is an integral part of your daily routine— such as one shoe, your laptop, purse, or office keys—in the backseat. As you get out of the car, you’ll notice you’re missing something, even if you’re not thinking about your child. And once you notice the missing item, you’ll discover the item and your child in the backseat.
- Null, Jan. (2014). Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles. Department of Earth and Climate Sciences, San Francisco State University. Retrieved from http://www.ggweather.com/heat/
- Martin, L. (2012, March 12). Forgotten baby syndrome. MailOnline. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2113440/Forgotten-baby-syndrome-It-unthinkable–accidentally-leaving-baby-hours-lots-busy-parents-devastating-consequences.html
- Payne, M. (2014, July 16). Shoe trick will prevent child deaths in hot cars. News-press.com. Retrieved from http://www.news-press.com/story/news/investigations/melanie-payne/2014/06/20/tell-mel-neverleft-campaign/11102697/
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.