10 Reasons Leaving Kids in the Car During an Errand Is No Big Deal

kids in the carRunning errands with children can often be a major pain in the rear. Between hauling tired children out of their car seats or dealing their demands for candy or toys, what should be a 10 minute run in to the convenient store to grab milk can become a 30 minute meltdown odyssey.

Leaving them in the car can become awfully tempting, something "Free-Range" parenting expert Lenore Skenazy addresses in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal. In it, she reveals that parents who leave their kids in the car -- even for just seven minutes or less -- are being bullied by police, arrested, and even forced to do follow up on their parenting skills with social workers. Insanity.

I was left in the car for like a hour at a time as a 7-year-old kid while my mom ran into the mall. I would nap or read or draw or listen to my walkman and not once was I kidnapped or did I die of heat stroke. I was FINE. Here are 10 situations and/or reasons I think it's fine to leave your big kids in the car:

  1. If it's not too hot: Obviously, this does not apply to extreme weather, but if it is 60 degrees and overcast, there is no reason a kid can't sit quietly in their booster seat waiting for mom to grab her Starbucks.
  2. It makes them happier: Kids who get to stay in the car during quick errands are usually much more content and relaxed than ones who have to run in with mom or dad on a series of 5-minute picks ups and drop offs. No kid wants to run into the dry cleaners, but they might be perfectly happy to stay (in plain sight of mom) playing a game in the car while mom drops off her suits.
  3. If it's not too cold: The same principles that apply to heat also apply to cold. If it's too cold, kids need to come in where it is warm. But for 10 minutes in mild weather, it is perfectly fine.
  4. If it's easier: If I forget something in my house and my kids are already buckled in, there is no reason that my 5-year-old can't sit happily buckled in his seat for the 3 minutes it will take me to run back in and grab his lunch or my sunglasses or whatever I forgot.
  5. If it makes mom happier: If I have to unbuckle my kid every single time I ran into the house to grab something I forgot, we would BOTH be miserable. It is hard enough to get him dressed, out the door, and buckled in without having to do it TWICE. No. Better he sits and waits for 40 seconds. We will both be happier.
  6. The danger is exaggerated: It is absolutely true that temperature is a danger and no one should leave kids (or pets) in a car with extreme temperature on either end. But kidnapping? Come on. Sure, it's a remote possibility. But if I am running into Starbucks and I can STILL see my car and there is no line, I really doubt my 6 and 5-year-old are in massive stranger danger in my locked car.
  7. We all did it and were fine: Do you know of anyone who was an 80's or 90's child who was kidnapped out of a car? Me neither. Now, do you know anyone who was left in the car? Chances are, you do. I know I was when I was 6 and older. Often. I loved it. It was quiet, it was warm, and I got to avoid running errands. Big win.
  8. Only judgmental people care: If I saw kids in the car outside a busy mall, I would feel differently than if I saw them outside their house or outside a Starbucks. I would also feel differently dependent on weather. But 9 times out of 10, I assume parents will do right by their kids. Calling 9-1-1 outside a convenience store on a mild and overcast day? Give me a break.
  9. In the car doesn't mean out of sight: Truth be told, I don't leave my kids in the car pretty much ever but that is mostly for fear of being judged. Still, there are many times I am running an errand where I could literally STILL SEE THE CAR and I wonder what the big deal is.
  10. It teaches independence: Kids don't need to be attached to mommy every second of the day. They feel kind of empowered by holding down the "fort" while mom is "away" even if they can still see her and she is back in four minutes.

Do you agree with me or do you think leaving kids in the car is wrong? Should there be a law in every state regarding this?

Editor's Note: According to Lenore Skenazy's article, mentioned by the author, it is illegal in 19 of the 50 states to leave different aged children in the car for various amounts of time. As Skenazy notes, "The laws differ in their particulars, but basically they state that a child under age 6, 7 or, in Utah, 9, cannot be left alone in the car for more than five or 10 minutes ..." If you are a mom who thinks every state should have such a law on the books, take action. If you are a mom who feels comfortable leaving her child in the car for a few minutes, please make sure you know the law of your state and always be aware of the temperature -- understanding that it gets hot quickly inside a car.

Image via Keith Tyler /Flickr

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