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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nonmember avatar Rach

You don't have to explain yourself to me, but I'm still going to judge anyone who chooses easy over safe.

keelh... keelhaulrose

I always leave my kids in the car if I'm just running back in the house to grab the sippy cup or whatever it was I or they forgot. That said I'm in a very low crime area, the car is either warmed up or cooled down or it's a mild day, and it's never more than two minutes. I'll also leave them if I'm running into the gas station to pay (I don't usually have a card on me, I work for my grandmother, who pays me in cash, so I have cash and my husband keeps the card), but I wait until the line is gone and I lock the car, and if the weather is bad I'll keep it running since my 5 year old can unlock it when I'm done.

nonmember avatar MrsClark

Ummmm....no. Lol. I will leave my kids in the car if we are in our driveway and I forgot my wallet in the house or something. And that's only if the air is running or it's not freezing. Not judging anyone else, but I will not leave my kids to get a Starbucks or pay for gas or whatever else. With that being said, my kids are ages 7, 3, and 1 so I just feel that is too young to be gaining this so called independence. They can gain independence other ways. When they are older, like pre teens or teenagers, it's fine with me. Wait in the car all u want, but as for right now, I am responsible for their safety. If that means I have to use the drive thru or drag my brood into the dry cleaners, so be it.

nonmember avatar Laura

I live in a small town and know an elderly woman who was left outside in a car while her caretaker ran into the supermarket. The car was stolen with her in it. As unlikely as these things are to happen the thought of my kids being in the car alone and being scared, whether from a stranger trying to get in or another car hitting the car, is enough to make me take them in the store with me.

miche... micheledo

I agree with you.  However, I don't do it - for fear that someone will call the police.  I do leave them in the van when I have to do something in the house.  

I typically save those short errands for when my husband is with me.  Buckling and unbuckling 5 children in and out of their car seats, over and over, gets VERY tiresome!

Leslie Weimer

no, my child loving going in the stores.

Coles... Coles_mom

My 7 year old has really hit the age of begging to stay in the car for short errands. I let him if it'll be under like 5 minutes and I can see the car the whole time (like gas station or post office).

insei... inseineangel

@Laura, something like that recently happened here in Michigan. Luckily, the woman was safe and made it back to her husband.

As to the article... If I'm running back in my house because I forgot something, I lock the car doors (after making sure I have my keys in hand), and run as fast as possible. Anywhere else, hell no. I don't care if I'll only be in there a minute or two, my daughter comes with me. Kidnappings may not be as common as other crimes, but honestly, you never know what is going to happen. What if your car is in a parking lot, and someone else loses control of their car and smashes into yours, injuring or even killing your child? What if they DO get kidnapped by some pervert? ANYTHING can happen. I'd rather be safe and know my child is ok then take ANY kind of risk like that. Safe over easy, any day.

MamaT... MamaTo2b2g

Good Lord. I bring 4 kids in with me everywhere I go, no matter how quick the errand. How is it so hard to bring 1 kid in with you to be safe? Sorry, I judge parents who choose easy over safety.

Laneydo Laneydo

I think it is irresponsible to even post this, honestly, on a forum where moms all over the country are skimming and read in bold "it's not too hot." In July. Are you serious? I know I live in what you would call "extreme" weather here in Houston, but we probably have almost two dozen children die in cars over the summer here (I don't know any official stats). This article just seems like the equivalent of saying "car seats aren't really necessary because I didn't die as a child when my mom didn't use one with me, and it was way easier for her to get things done without having to strap me in." I hope no mom actually takes your advice.

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