Parenting Archive

Babies in Hot Cars: It Can Happen to You

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temperature - hotTemperatures are on the rise, and soon the reports of children left in hot cars will be on the rise, too. I have a lot to say about that, but first I want to share a couple stories.

Sometimes when we’re cleaning up after dinner, my husband will take out the trash. He’ll announce to me that he has removed the trash bag from the garbage can so that I’ll know not to throw anything in there until he has come back inside and replaced it with a new bag.

I’ll hear him and acknowledge him. And then, almost inevitably, I’ll go over to the empty garbage can and throw something in.

I’m not stupid and I’m not trying to be a jerk. It’s not that I didn’t hear him. It’s that when I have something to throw away, my instinct is to do what I always do: Throw it away.

Then there was this one time in college when my friend and I were planning a drive to Arizona for spring break. I had been looking forward to it for months, and it was an easy drive I’d made before: Get onto I-10 (just down the street from my school) and head east for about six hours.

So when the morning of our trip arrived, my friend and I packed up my car and we headed out. Ten minutes later, my friend said, “Um…aren’t we going the wrong way?” Indeed we were. Instead of heading east to Phoenix, we were headed west toward Los Angeles. Why? Because that’s the route I took to drive home every week or two. It’s what I was used to, so it’s what I did without thinking about it, even though I knew to head east to Arizona.

What do trash cans and roadtrip detours have to do with heatstroke? A heck of a lot.

There are caregivers who intentionally leave their children in a hot car, usually because they don’t realize the danger. Sometimes these parents are downright negligent, like when they leave a child to go gambling. That happens in less than 20% of cases, though. Usually when we hear about children dying in hot cars, it’s a tragic instance of the parent forgetting the child was there. Most often that happens when there’s a change in routine.

It’s very easy for people to claim they would never be those parents. They love their children too much to forget them. They are too smart to let something like that happen.

If you think it can’t happen to you, you’re wrong. It can happen to anyone, including very intelligent, diligent, loving, caring parents who are just as human as the rest of us. They don’t forget their children because they don’t love them or don’t care. They forget their children because humans are wired to follow routines. We’re creatures of habit, and habits are hard to break.

When I throw some food scraps into a liner-less trash can or head the wrong way on the freeway, it’s because that’s what I’m used to doing, despite “knowing” I’m supposed to do something different.

It’s the same with the parent whose morning routine usually involves driving straight to the office. That’s what they do and what they’ve done, maybe every weekday for months or years. Then one morning, something changes. Maybe the parent who usually takes the baby to daycare is sick, so the other parent needs to drop him off. The parent knows this, of course. He or she packs up the diaper bag and straps the baby into the car seat. Maybe he or she talks or sings to the baby as the drive starts. But then the baby falls asleep and the parent focuses on driving. And then the routine takes over. The parent goes on autopilot—like we all do, more often than we realize—and he or she instinctively makes the right toward the office instead of the left toward the daycare. And then tragedy strikes.

You can say it’ll never happen to you, but the truth is that it can happen to anyone. I guarantee that every person reading this has had one of “those” moments, where they fully intend to do one thing but then do another out of habit. Usually those moments are nothing more than a slight inconvenience; usually they don’t have dire consequences.

Heat stroke deaths chart - 5.2016

If you’re still feeling smug about being a superior parent, read this piece from the Washington Post, and try to do it without crying.

Over the past few years, as the media has paid more attention to the issue of children dying in hot cars, several inventions have emerged to try to prevent the tragedy from happening. There have been a couple car seats, including the Evenflo Advanced Embrace with SensorSafe, designed with technology built in to remind parents a child is with them. GMC has introduced an alarm that sounds when it senses a child might be in the back seat (due to a back door having been opened and shut before the drive started). Aftermarket chest clips and mats have been created, and people have marketed gadgets like a device that blocks a driver’s exit from the car to remind them that their child is in the back.

Some of these products are more reliable than others. Electronic technology can fail (though Evenflo’s system seems to be more reliable than many other methods). Some (like thick mats or non-approved chest clips) could potentially be dangerous.

The good news is that you don’t need technology or fancy gadgets to help prevent these tragedies, but you should do something. If you have your child in the car—especially if that’s out of the ordinary—put your purse or briefcase in the back seat (preferably on the floor so it’s less likely to fly around). If you don’t use a purse or briefcase, put some other item back there that you’ll need once you get to your destination: Your phone (that will also cut down on the temptation to use it while driving), your coat, one of your shoes.

Talk with your preschool or daycare about procedures for when a child doesn’t show up: Do they call to try to locate the child? If not, see if they will. If your spouse or another person usually handles drop-off, keep in touch with them, too, if possible. If Dad is changing his routine to drop off the kids, Mom can call him around drop-off time to make sure he made it. You and your childcare provider can take Ray Ray’s Pledge.

Don’t intentionally leave children in the car, even if you’re just running into the store for five minutes. In that time, the car could already be heating up to deadly levels. Always keep your parked vehicle locked – even if it’s in your garage. Kids die every year because they get into open cars or trunks and then can’t get out.

If you see a child left alone in a car, immediately call 911. Do not wait for the parent to return because chances are you have no idea how long the child has been in the car already. If the child appears to be in distress, check for unlocked doors or break a window (away from the child) if you need to.

And as you encounter stories of babies accidentally left in cars, take a moment to have some compassion instead of judgement. Everybody makes mistakes. Be thankful if yours aren’t fatal ones.

Someone call the wahhhhhmbulance

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screaming baby clip art…because I think I’m about to lose my head. How many times have you said this to yourself from the front seat as your baby screams bloody murder behind you in their car seat?

Trust me, I know the feeling. It’s a cross between extreme sadness from hearing the wails, and a stabby frustration that there’s nothing you can do about it. Half of me wanted to beg and plea for his mercy for having strapped him into such an obvious torture device, and the other half of me wanted to scream, “FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING, WHY CAN’T YOU JUST SLEEP IN THE CAR LIKE EVERY OTHER BABY ON THIS GODFORSAKEN PLANET?????”. Instead I just white knuckled it every drive and blasted my music while taking deep breaths.

I’m not sure why some babies hate the car. It seemed to me that everyone I knew had babies that slept like angels as soon as the car started moving. Heck, if their kids wouldn’t go to bed, the solution was to pop them in the car and go for a drive. Then there was Liam, who transformed into a diaper wearing, spit up wielding Gremlin who would gladly claw your eyes out if given the chance and had a scream with a pitch that could summon the gods to an otherworldly war.

My first born.

My first born.

I’m fairly certain I have 20 years worth of hearing loss that occurred in one trip to Target. Nothing I did helped. Nothing. He literally screamed every car trip from the time he “woke up” from his newborn slumber at around 3 weeks till he was about 18 months old. He did have reflux, so that probably contributed. But mostly I think it’s that he hates any form of physical restraint on his body. I’ve never understood people’s insistence on having an infant seat that attaches to a stroller because I’ve never experienced a moment where I wasn’t scrambling to unbuckle them out of their car seat! Even sweet, easy going Declan would never ever be content in a car seat that wasn’t in the car. He wasn’t a car screamer-thank god- but there was no way on this green earth that he was going to lay in his infant seat while we strolled through the store. As soon as the car engine turned off he would fuss until he was unbuckled and freed.

Hi, I'm the easier second child but I will still make your shopping trip one you will never forget if you don't get me out of this thing as soon as you cut the engine.

Hi, I’m the easier second child but I will still make your shopping trip one you will never forget if you don’t get me out of this thing as soon as you cut the engine.

It was truly crippling, life with my car screamer. I plotted my days to exist solely in a 5 mile radius of my house because I couldn’t take anything longer. I declined invitations to family gatherings, birthday parties, etc that were too far. It wasn’t because I thought it was damaging to him; it was because it was damaging to ME. I have an extremely low tolerance for noise and that combined with the traffic in Phoenix just made it impossible for me.

So what can you do? Well I’m convinced nothing will stop it. But word on the streets from people who don’t have a Gremlin for a child is that there are some things you can try.

Numero uno: Consider switching to a

The Incredible (little?) Plasticman!

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If you know me, you know one of my peeves is when people try to swing my kids around by their arms or lift them up by their hands. I’m always the bad guy to ruin the fun for all. But here’s why:

Kids, especially the under 5 set, are pretty much just running around connected by rubber bands. It sounds crude to say, but it’s true. The ligaments holding their joints together are still fresh, and aren’t as strong as they will be later in childhood. One of the most common minor injuries of childhood is known as the “nursemaid elbow”. It occurs when a child is pulled hard by the arm, falls on it wrong, or is picked up or swung by their arms/hands. The weight is too much for the immature ligaments to handle, and the joint of the elbow partially or completely dislocates. It’s pretty painful for the child, and you’ll know right away if it happens. Kids will cry and refuse to use their arm.

elbow2

It’s pretty scary but fortunately it’s benign and a simple fix. Your pediatrician or the doctor at urgent care or the emergency room can quickly pop it back into place by doing a maneuver known as a reduction. It hurts for a split second but there’s immediate relief. The downside is if this happens to your child once, the odds of it happening again are pretty high, so you may be making multiple trips before your child’s ligaments firm up a bit after the age of 5 or 6.

I swear sometimes my 2 year old does look like this.

I swear sometimes my 2 year old does look like this.

You can prevent this from happening altogether by always leading your child gently by the arm (I know this is hard when you’re holding their hand and they are doing spaghetti legs and flailing around!), only lifting them by their armpits, and avoiding rough play that involves swinging them around by their hands or wrists. Sometimes it just happens regardless, but following those basic tips greatly reduces the chances that your toddler will have to go through the pain.

But if it does happen, don’t fret. It’s very common and sometimes it’s just another bump in the roller coaster of childhood.

How to toss your cookies but not your sanity.

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Let’s talk about one of our absolutely favorite things about being a parent. Something that makes childless people totally jealous, makes you cry tears of joy, inspires the angels to sing, and brings that rhetorical unicorn to continue defecating glorious sparkling rainbows all over your home.

Your child comes to you. They have that look in their eyes- the look of true love and need for you. You open your arms to accept them and “GAHHHHGKSJHDJHERUIGTGSJGJAJSHJFDH*#$^&#^$@%#@^#&@”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The stomach runneth over. You look down at the coating on your shirt. The puddle collecting in your lap. The smell invading your brain.

No? Not your favorite?  Well that’s a bummer because ‘tis the season!

toystory puke

Anyway, a common misconception is that this is a “stomach flu”. Actually it’s not the flu at all. Influenza is characterized by sudden onset fever, chills and body aches, runny nose, cough, etc. Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestine, causing nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, low grade fevers, aches, and general ickiness. It’s definitely no fun.

So what can you do when you or your little one is lucky enough to contract this? Honestly, the less you do, the better. The first thing people worry about it dehydration, which is a valid concern, but it really only becomes a danger when the vomiting or diarrhea becomes excessive (think more than once per hour and continuing this way for a long period of time). The stomach is purging because it is irritated, so you want to give it a rest. Resist the urge to give your child fluid after they vomit. It will continue the cycle and prolong the misery. Let them rest and once they’ve been vomit free for more than an hour or two, allow a few SIPS of water or electrolyte drink. No drinking full glasses no matter how hard they beg! Once they’ve been vomit free for longer than that, they can nibble on crackers or something bland. If they throw up again, start back at square one with nothing by mouth again. Sometimes this lasts for just the day, sometimes a few.  Avoid giving sugary drinks like Gatorade and juice since it can irritate the stomach more. You don’t need to follow the BRAT diet- typically once kids aren’t throwing up anymore they can resume normal eating patterns but do avoid fatty, fried, or spicy foods. Avoid dairy as much as possible during this time, most irritated stomachs cannot tolerate lactose.  Breastfeeding is always ok! If you are nursing, encourage them to breastfeed as much as they want. Resist the urge to give medications. Ibuprofen can irritate the stomach and any kind of anti-emetic and anti-diarrheal is preventing the purging of the virus from the system. Just let it ride- the best medicine is rest and love.

Typically a stomach virus doesn’t require a visit to the pediatrician. Viruses are not treated with antibiotics. However, if your child is showing signs of dehydration (dry skin, dark urine or not urinating, crying without tears, sunken soft spot in infants, listlessness, or high fever) then they should be seen. Rotavirus and norovirus can cause severe dehydration, so if your child shows any of these symptoms or is vomiting/having diarrhea uncontrollably then swift action is needed.  Also if you notice red blood or dark coffee ground-looking stuff in their vomit or diarrhea, get them seen right away.

Remember to wash wash wash! Hand sanitizer is not effective in killing stomach viruses. Good ol’ soap and water is your best bet. Make your child wash their hands constantly and remember to wash yours too even if you aren’t sick! Also remember that even if they stop vomiting or having diarrhea, their stools will still be contagious for several weeks, so be vigilant with those diapers and disinfecting the bathroom/house.

quarantine-sign

Even if this isn’t your magic parenting moment, you will make it through. I have faith in you. Although may I suggest investing in a good carpet/upholstery cleaner?