Recently, there were two news web portals about children and their parent’s car. The first story was about an 8-year-old boy from Ohio (read it here) who wanted a cheeseburger even though he had eaten hours earlier. His father had already gone to bed, and his mother had fallen asleep on the couch. So, at 8:00 p.m., this little boy decided to go to get the desired cheeseburger. He took money from his piggy bank, grabbed his father’s van keys and then buckled his 4-year-old sister into the back seat.
He drove about a mile to his destination. Witnesses said, he appeared to adhere to all the speed limits and traffic lights. Then when he reached McDonald’s, he drove right up to the drive through. The workers thought it was a prank and that the parents were really in the backseat. A family friend had spotted the children and quickly called their grandparents to come get them. The police arrive as the children were finishing their meal. The officer asked the boy in amazement, “How did you learn how to drive?”, the boy simply responded, “YouTube”.
Although YouTube may have taught him the mechanics of driving, children learn to imitate their parents at a very early age. The second news story will give you a glimpse of how young children are when they begin to copy their parents (read it here). In the story, the mother had just left a grocery store with her 14-month-old son. He wasn’t sitting in the carriage, so she thought it would be safer to put him in the car. Even though this child would have had a limited vocabulary, since he was so young; he obviously paid attention while in the car with his parents. Once his mother put him in the car, he climbed into the driver’s seat, locked the doors and then stood holding the steering wheel as if he were driving. His hands were even on the steering wheel in the correct position of a clock, at 10 and 2.
In our book, Dear Daycare Parent: The Must Have Guide to Daycare For Working Parents, we warn parents about leaving a child in a running car.
When children are young, they like to role play. By role playing, they begin to understand and learn about their immediate world. Daily they will take on different roles, especially being mom and dad! They dress up in the dramatic play area in what they call their “work clothes” and then they will get busy building a car so they can get to work. It could be something quick like a box, or lining up a bunch of chairs. Other times, they will build a more elaborate car out of blocks. They use a Popsicle stick or a plastic set of keys to start their car; and they stomp their foot on a small block while pretending to push the foot pedal for the gas or the brake, and they use hand motions to pull on an invisible gear shift.
Even while playing outside, the children will pretend to drive, using toy cars, fire trucks, bikes and wagons. As they ride over the hard-top, they could be heard making beeping sounds for horns, screeching sounds for brakes or just revving up their car by saying, “Vroom, vroom”. As they play, their main goal is to drive like their parents do daily.
So, it’s quite scary when we see when a parent has left a child in a car, unattended. All too often, we’ve watched that child take off their seat belt or climb out of their car seat, and move into the driver’s seat and grasp the steering wheel so they could pretend to drive.
Knowing that children want to emulate their parents, we would remind parents often, “Remember, safety first, shut off your car and take all children into the school with you!”