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Why You Should Leave an Item in the Backseat with Your Child

Savannah Clark's picture
leave something to remind you

I have heard people read Facebook posts about “Leaving an item in the back of your car to help you remember your child”, usually with a hint of disgust in their voice. “How could you not remember your child, they should be the thing you remember is in the backseat.” This is why you should leave an item in the backseat with your child.


I Forgot My Child

I want to start this article with a little story. Tiberius was about three months old and we took a trip to my parents to have a work day. It was so great to be back home and working; doing chores that had been done a hundred times before was nice because of the sense of familiarity. This was a new time for me, there had been a lot of changes going on in my life, the biggest one being a baby. So, to be home doing something that I knew how to do was nice. I laid Tiberius down for a nap and my mother stayed in the room to watch him while I went back outside. Then I did something I have done thousands of times before, I ran to Sonic to get us all drinks because it was happy hour; it was always a nice little treat at the end of a long work day. I get home and pass the drinks out and we are all talking, finishing the last little bits of our chore for the day. About twenty minutes pass and a little bit of panic grabs my heart: I just remembered that I had a baby named Tiberius who I needed to check on.

You’ve Gone Your Whole Life without a Baby

This is why you should leave an item in the backseat of your car. How could I forget my child, the most precious thing in the world to me that I grew inside of me for nine months, the most important thing in my life that I am supposed to take care of? Well, up until that point in my life I had never had a baby. I had gone twenty-one years of my life creating habits and rituals without the baby; most people have too. You have gone most of your life doing things without a child in your backseat. Humans are creatures of habit, we tend to do the same things at the same time every day. It’s a little arrogant to think that suddenly at the drop of a hat you are going to be able to uproot years of habits and rituals and replace them with new ones. That takes time.

I Used to Think That I Could Never Forget my Child

I used to think that I would be able to. I mean, it’s your kid, how could you not? The reality of it though is that I did forget my child. Now, I was blessed. I forgot him in a safe place where someone was watching over him. If I had taken him with me to go get those drinks, something I had done thousands of times before without him, I would have forgotten him for twenty minutes inside of a hot car. It made me realize that I’m not going to be able to replace the habits created in my mind for twenty-one years in three short months, most people can’t.

So, if you’re doing something that you usually do without your baby, place something in the backseat of your car just to be safe. I’ve never had to use it, if Tiberius is with me I remember him, but what happens if I don’t? If you don’t? It doesn’t make you a bad parent to take precautions, it just makes you human. This has to do with our brains and the way they operate. You have two major parts of the brain that compete with one another: the basal ganglia and the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. The basal ganglia has to do with habit formation and the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus have to do with processing new information; this means they can sometimes compete with one another.

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When you are completing an action that you have done before you are working with your basal ganglia, when you add in a new factor, a baby, your prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus take that information in and process it. Then the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are competing with one another; you are trying to remember the new action you are supposed to take but your brain is trying to override that with the action you have done repeatedly.

Why You Should Leave an Item in the Backseat with Your Child

Listen to this excerpt:
“The basal ganglia play a big part in driving. "Once you've driven from Point A to Point B enough times, you can do it without thinking," Dr. Diamond says. "You might not even remember the trip." If new information enters the picture (say, your partner calls to ask you to stop at the store and buy milk), your prefrontal cortex and hippocampus have to kick into gear to incorporate it. "But it's common to drive right past the store and come home. When your partner says, 'Where's the milk?' you feel flustered because you remember the conversation, but for some reason you came home instead." Why? Because you were on autopilot. "The basal ganglia actually suppress the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus from bringing that memory to your consciousness," explains Dr. Diamond.”

This is a prime example of why you should leave an item in the backseat with your child, your brain needs it.

What You Can Do to Help Prevent This

There are a few ways you can help ensure that you remember the person in the back seat; the best one is to leave an item in the backseat. Try to leave an item that you use daily, such as a purse, phone, briefcase. You can even try leaving your breakfast or morning coffee in a cup holder in the back. This can help make sure that out of habit you don’t walk away without checking the backseat, just to make sure.

The next best thing you could do it put an item of your child’s in the front seat with you. This can be a little reminder that your child is with you. It can help keep you from falling back into a habit.

These are just a few steps you can take just to make sure that your child doesn’t get left in the vehicle. It never hurts to make sure that you don’t fall back into a habit.