Does your toddler or preschooler know how to get out of a car when the doors are shut?
Why is this not something we talk about? Why isn’t it a thing we teach our kids, like we do with fire drills?
Tonight I realized my son, who will be four in just a few days, couldn’t open the car doors from the inside by himself. He’s strong, he’s big for his age, and he’s smart. But the door handle didn’t open easily for him and he panicked.
We had gone to the pool. When we got home I made sure he was unbuckled from his car seat, and his car door was wide open. We have a Toyota Highlander, just FYI.
I was carrying in wet towels and swim trunks, my wallet, keys, the camera, a lens that I was worried about dropping, *and* I’m pregnant with twins and had to pee.
He often walks inside slowly, stopping to look at random crumbs in the carseat or ants on the ground. Our neighborhood is relatively safe, he knows not to wander off, he knows how to open the front door by himself. My older kids were also walking inside, he wasn’t even alone.
About ten minutes after I’d come in the house I realized I hadn’t heard his voice.
The older kids were running around doing stuff, we had just let the dogs out and we were getting ready to make sandwiches.
We started looking for him–maybe he was in the bathroom pooping. Or sometimes he will grab the iPad and sit down quietly.
He wasn’t in the house anywhere.
He was in the car.
The doors were shut, he was sweating and sobbing with his face pressed against the window.
Ten minutes while we were distracted, and he was trapped in the car.
It turns out that as we walked inside earlier he was laying on the floor of the car looking for his lost flip flop. One of the other kids thought he had already gotten out and that he had just left his car door open, so she closed it trying to be helpful. (We’ve already had the repeated lesson on how leaving car doors open results in dead batteries…)
He couldn’t get the car doors open, so he panicked and cried. No one could hear him.
I’m sure you all are like me–you think you would never forget your kid in a hot car.
But what if your kid gets trapped in a hot car by accident?
It could happen so easily. I realize this now. What if we thought he was napping and he’d actually snuck out the door and gotten into the car to get something, and the door had blown shut behind him? Someone in our local parenting group commented on my post tonight saying this happened to a friend of a friend’s four year old son recently. He died. They found him trying to get the door open to get out, but it was too late.
Preschoolers are so difficult–they can have a little independence, they can walk around and do things with a mind of their own, but there are also so many things they can’t do that we may not realize…like get out of a car with all the doors shut.
Thank God it was only ten minutes. I may never recover.
I’ve explained to my older kids how quickly kids and pets can overheat in a hot car. I’ve made sure they know to check carefully before closing a door from now on.
Tomorrow my three year old will be practicing how to open the car from the inside all by himself: Opening the door handles, how the locks work, and how to honk the horn until someone comes to help if you can’t open the door. And the buttons too! Our Highlander has a button by the steering wheel that opens the back hatch. He will be practicing how to find and push that button successfully.
I’m also going to make sure he can unbuckle his car seat. I’m fairly certain he will be able to at least undo the chest clip, and I’ll have him practice pulling his legs up and out from there, just in case he ever finds himself in the car and needs to get out.
Of course he will be practicing these things while I’m sitting in the car with him, but I want to be sure he can do it with out any help from me.
It’s not a thing that I’ve ever heard of or thought off–practicing how to get out of the car. But it should be. It should be something that preschool kids are taught, just like we tell them what to do in case of a house fire. We have fire drills. Why not car escape drills? We teach them how to swim, how to float on their backs if they fall in water accidentally and can’t get out, yet we don’t teach them how to get out of the car sitting in the driveway.
Please take ten minutes of your day and be sure your kids at least know how to push the buttons and honk the horn if they accidentally get in the car alone, and have them practice opening the doors from the inside if they’re strong enough. Remind your friends with small children to do the same. You never know, they could get into the car when you least expect it. Knowing how to get out might save their lives.
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