Laissez Faire

Letting Life Lead

Musings #20: Brain Games and the Tragic Forgetting of Small Children in Hot Cars

braingamesThink about all the times you’ve driven to work every day, sometimes for years, on the same route.  How many times have you arrived at work or at home at the end of the day with no recollection of the drive?   Your brain does things like that on a daily basis.

Else-net the topic of small children dying tragically in hot cars came up again and there were a couple of people who couldn’t wrap their mind around it:  How can these parents just forget their kids!?     Were they detached?   Too concerned with the unimportant things in life?   Were they just unfit?   One person balked at the idea of leaving one’s shoes in the backseat with the child as a failsafe because, “How can you remember your shoe but forget your kid?”

Leaving your shoes in the back seat with the child is an easy way to trigger the brain out of auto pilot (especially if you are out of normal routine).  It is a physical connection trigger.  You’d be surprised at the things you don’t consciously process because of the way the brain filters and focuses information.

A few days ago I shared a news story about a Grandmother who was arrested for leaving her thirteen year old grandchild in charge of a ten-year old and four-year old sibling.   A couple of people called the police.   I shared some information about how the call was an over-reaction based upon an erroneous impression of the facts surrounding heat-stroke deaths of children in cars.  The vast majority of children who die in hot cars are under age 3.     In almost all cases those children were forgotten by their parent or caregiver.

If you look at the stories of forgetting children in hot cars there are two major scenarios: (1) there was a break in daily routine with the parent either forgetting entirely –not recollecting having the child in the first place– or thinking they actually did the drop off. Total autopilot. (2) thinking the child was taken by and with the other parent/relative, and the case of daycares the child was believed to be indoors with the other children.

They all thought the kids were taken care of and safe.

In one horrific accident I read, both parents were occupied with their severely seizuring 7yo and hadn’t realized their 2yo was still in their car.  In one other case, an infant died in 15 minutes on a blistering day while the parent was talking right outside the car because the air conditioning stopped working suddenly.    When a tragedy like this happens, in all but a couple of cases the parents weren’t neglectful, they simply believed their children were safe at daycare or with the other parent or relative.

Watch the show Brain Games (it is available on Netflix, and a few episodes on YouTube) to understand how easy it is to “miss the obvious” and that it can happen to anyone. Your conscious brain misses a LOT of data.  Even when you think you are paying close attention.  You don’t see and remember things quite as well as you think.


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Aspiring writer, wife, mother of two, owner two cats. Teacher, lover of science, books, science fiction, fantasy, and video games.


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