A Problem Shared: Is It OK To Leave My Child In The Car?

A Problem Shared Parenting & Family Advice | by | 26th May 2017

Cover image of leave kids in car APS

Can you leave your child in the car on their own? What would you do? Do you have any advice for this week’s A Problem Shared…

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Hi, we have a 7-year-old son. On Saturday, we had to nip into the supermarket to pick up a few things. When we arrived there, my son said he wanted to stay in the car to play with his iPad. As we didn’t think we would be very long, we agreed. We made sure the doors were locked and told him not to touch any switches in the car.

Around 15-20 mins later when we came back to the car with our shopping. We then saw that a woman had approached a policeman about ‘finding a little boy alone in the car’. The policeman then spoke to us to find out what happened. He then advised my son to “follow Mum and Dad into the shop next time.”

I understand this may be of concern if the child was younger, or happened on a very hot day, or if we had left him for a long time. But it was none of these. My son was happily playing with his iPad during 20 minutes we were gone. He was obviously not in distress.

Is what we have done wrong? Am I a bad parent?

Our FamilyPoint reply…

First of all the fact that you are concerned about being a bad parent shows that you really care about this decision you have made and the welfare of your child. Both indicate that you are not a ‘bad parent’. In regard to the choice that you made, it wasn’t made with bad intention or neglect. However it may not have been the most sensible course of action at this time. The law states that it is an offence for a child to be left unsupervised if it places them at risk.

it is an offence for a child to be left unsupervised if it places them at risk

You felt that your child is sensible enough to stay on the iPad in the car and not fiddle with controls or try to leave the car. Nevertheless the NSPCC indicates that below age 12 a child shouldn’t be left alone for a significant amount of time.

Is it worth the risk?

As an adult 15-20 minutes may not feel like a large amount of time. However a child can lose attention and get themselves in a whole heap of trouble in this time. This is especially true when seated in a car alone where there are lots of potentially alluring buttons and levers. You are probably right that your 7-year-old would be fine but is it worth the chance?

Parenting is a constant learning curve and try not to beat yourself up

Of course as parents it is important to be able to use your judgement. Yet a good rule that may help would be to place yourself in an outsider observer’s shoes. For example put yourself in the shoes of the female who found your son in the car and reported this to the police. She didn’t know how long your child had been left. She didn’t know that you were coming back. Nor did she know the temperament of your son or that you were close by in the shop. If you had all these unanswered questions about the welfare of a child you might find yourself mentioning this to a police officer.

Try not to beat yourself up

Parenting is a constant learning curve and try not to beat yourself up. You’re now armed with the right knowledge, so you’ll be able to avoid this situation in the future. Take care.

If you would like further information on national or local support services, then you can contact us at FamilyPoint Cymru via phone 0300 222 57 57, text 07860 052 905, or IM/Chat. We are open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm.

I hope this advice has been helpful. Good luck.

The FamilyPoint Cymru Team

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Check out all our ‘A Problem Shared…’ posts for more family advice here.

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