38 answers

What Age to Leave Children in the Car?

I became upset to hear that my stepdaughter's mom was leaving her and her 3-year old brother in the car while she went inside a store. My SD is 9. I know she locks the doors, but I can't imagine leaving a 9-year old and a 3-year old in the car alone! With all the crazies in the world you never know what could happen!

A 9-year old is NOT equipped to handle a 3-year old OR herself should any kind of situation arise, even if it's as small as suddenly the 3-year old has to pee.

Her dad and I are very upset. Besides talking to the mom, what else can we do? Are we overreacting?

Edited to add: In response to one helpful mama, this all came up when the 9-year old kept asking if she could stay in the car while I ran into the store. I told her "no, that's not safe" and she whined that her MOM lets her do it. I had my husband talk to his daughter to see what the situation was. Turns out the mom leaves them in the car while she runs into Walgreens and Target and sometimes the grocery store and that she does it all the time. She seemed to be telling the truth because she said that her mom locks the doors and cracks the window and tells the 3-year old to "mind her sister." I don't think the 9-year old could make up those kinds of details. I know she used to leave them both at home alone when my SD was 7 and the brother was 1 to run down to the fast food place. When confronted the Mom denied it, but after that SD said she never did it again.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thanks for all the responses, we don't feel so alone in making sure our children are next to us at all times! They mean the world to us and it only takes one second for disaster to happen!

I can't figure out if it's illegal in Illinois, but we are going to check into it. My husband will use that when he talks to his daughter's mom. Perhaps the idea of her losing her kids will be enough so she will never do it again. We try to stay on good terms so it helps us when we can make someone else the "bad guy." Anyone who has ever worked with a blended family knows how delicate the situations can be and how quickly they can blow up into custody battles. Last time my husband said that he had heard from his daughter that she was leaving them home alone, and that he didn't like it and was "afriad for her" that something would happen and she'd never be able to forgive herself. Also, that their daughter might mention something to a teacher who would report it immediately to the DCFS and she'd lose her kids. I know he wanted to tell her that she was a neglectful nut, but that would have inflamed the situation. Since it never happened again, it seems it worked.

Thanks for your support!

Featured Answers

My daughter is 5 and I've been leaving her in the car alone for about a year. But only to run in to the gas station to get a soda (and only the one right by my house) or into Little Cesears for pizza (storefront is all glass windows and we are parked right in front of it). I lock the door and take keys w/ me and tell her not to open it for anyone, including grandma!! Not that grandma is bad, but I want her to understand that the car doesn't get unlocked for anyone. And if anyone tries to talk to her, she is to scream and scream and scream.

But, I wouldn't leave her alone to run into a store where I couldn't see her.

Wait, I lied. I did run in to a Walgreens once while she was napping so I could use the potty (emergency!). It was the middle of the day and I was so nervous doing it, but it was an emergency. I normally wouldn't do it.

Having said that, I do think a 9yr old is ok to sit in the car, doors locked, w/ the 3yr old for a few min. Not a full grocery store or Target run, but a quick in and out run.

3 moms found this helpful

That's way risky - Target, are you serious?? I'm probably on the far extreme side of caution on this issue - I don't leave my kids for 1 minute, ever, unless I'm pumping gas literally right next to the car - and then I pay at the pump. If I had to run inside the gas station for some reason, I'd unbuckle them both and bring them in, pain the butt or not. I never leave my babies in the car without me. So what if I can see the car - what if something happened?? Things happen fast. Why take the risk.

I do have a friend who was written a citation by a cop when she left her child in the car for a minute to run into a dr. office - and she could see the car from the window inside. It's illegal in many states.

2 moms found this helpful

NEVER. When my kids are adults. There are so many crazy people out there that I am not willing to take the risk at the expense of my children. I would rather take longer, have a more difficult time in the store etc. because my children mean the world to me--- I would NEVER forgive myself if something happened to them and I could have provented it.

M.

1 mom found this helpful

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This is not a Black and White question.

All situations are NOT the same.

~I was MORE than comfortable leaving my 9 yr old nephew in the car with one of my younger children...I am MORE than comfortable leaving all 3 of my small kids in the car...

...when I am running into the quicki-mart or my local grocery store! They are 3 blocks from my house...I work there and I live in a VERY nice and comfortable neighborhood...I can see them from my car and I know everyone who is around!

I do not feel the same in different parts of my city, that is FOR CERTAIN!

I agree you should just ask them nicely and sincerely to please not do that anymore...and that it makes you scared and uncomfortable...they should understand OR put your mind at ease about what store, for how long and when she has left the kids alone in the car.

Hope this helps. I know this can be scary stuff!

5 moms found this helpful

Sue for custody the biological mother hasn't a shred of common sense.

4 moms found this helpful

My daughter is 5 and I've been leaving her in the car alone for about a year. But only to run in to the gas station to get a soda (and only the one right by my house) or into Little Cesears for pizza (storefront is all glass windows and we are parked right in front of it). I lock the door and take keys w/ me and tell her not to open it for anyone, including grandma!! Not that grandma is bad, but I want her to understand that the car doesn't get unlocked for anyone. And if anyone tries to talk to her, she is to scream and scream and scream.

But, I wouldn't leave her alone to run into a store where I couldn't see her.

Wait, I lied. I did run in to a Walgreens once while she was napping so I could use the potty (emergency!). It was the middle of the day and I was so nervous doing it, but it was an emergency. I normally wouldn't do it.

Having said that, I do think a 9yr old is ok to sit in the car, doors locked, w/ the 3yr old for a few min. Not a full grocery store or Target run, but a quick in and out run.

3 moms found this helpful

Ummm- it is ILLEGAL to leave your chld unattended in the car -- specifically in Illinois. How do I know this- 1) I am an attorney; and 2) I was at traffic court with my nanny and the first sign you see through security at the Cook County suburban courthouse near Old Orchard is "Don't Leave Children Unattended in the Car -- it is a CRIME". Just as an FYI.

2 moms found this helpful

That's way risky - Target, are you serious?? I'm probably on the far extreme side of caution on this issue - I don't leave my kids for 1 minute, ever, unless I'm pumping gas literally right next to the car - and then I pay at the pump. If I had to run inside the gas station for some reason, I'd unbuckle them both and bring them in, pain the butt or not. I never leave my babies in the car without me. So what if I can see the car - what if something happened?? Things happen fast. Why take the risk.

I do have a friend who was written a citation by a cop when she left her child in the car for a minute to run into a dr. office - and she could see the car from the window inside. It's illegal in many states.

2 moms found this helpful

You are not overacting....This should not be occurring..PERIOD! You husband should speak with the mother of his children.

I'm not sure if you are married to this man or his girlfriend/fiance. What I will say, is if all has been well with the children before you received this news: I would caution you to be careful and make sure you are not using a one time incident, that has not been verified, to escalate a situation rather then all adults involved, come to an agreement about never leaving children unattended in a car.

Blessings...

2 moms found this helpful

NEVER! Even when its just my husband and I, I take the keys out of the ignition and lock the door when he goes inside. People look for running cars to steal, even if its locked it only takes a second to break the window. NEVER leave your kids in the car alone!

Nora Im scared for your kids.

1 mom found this helpful

I think the time they are left in the car, and the fact if the car is in view or out of view makes a difference.

I personally would not leave my kids (7,6,4,2) in the car at ALL if I could not see them from where I am- and if I can see them, they aren't left alone for more than 3 mins. They are to keep their seat belts on, and I lock the doors.

Times I have left them "alone": when dropping off one of them (just walking their sister to a door) at ballet lessons, getting gas, in the driveway because I needed to get something quick from the house, and in their friend's driveways when I'm dropping off their sister for a play date.

Never ever would I even slightly consider going into a store without them, or anywhere that I couldn't see them, much less a place where i would be spending some time in.

If the SD is truly not being left alone anymore in the car, I wouldn't try and pursue any action on this. Nine isn't super young... I wouldn't let a child that age stay in the car either BUT, I could see how someone who wasn't fully thinking could find it "okay"... sounds like the mom used bad judgment, didn't find a fault in it, and was "caught" by you, felt bad, understood the dangers at that point and corrected it by not doing it again (hopefully). I'd drop it UNLESS she had done it again...

1 mom found this helpful

I leave my 9 year old in the car if I forget something in the house, or if I'm running into the donut shop, or the dry cleaners, etc. When I'm only going to be gone for a few minutes and can see the car.

1 mom found this helpful

If I could see the kids in the car and the kids could be entertained (watching a DVD in the car) and were safe (strapped in their 5 pt harness) then I would leave them for a quick errand when they were as young as 1 and 4 yrs old. I would take the key fob with me and leave the AC running if it were hot, or heat if it were cold, then lock the car from the key fob. (for instance - at the bank I went to they had a huge window in front, I parked right outside that window and used the teller right by the window)

I didn't start leaving them where I couldn't see them until they were 5 and 8. Both were very well behaved and could handle an emergency.

Seriously what will happen to the kids in the car? Does your 3 yr old not behave or mind her sister or do dangerous things? If something happened to you in the store they are outside THAT store and would see it, then have the brains to go to the ambulance or whatever and see what was going on with their parent. They are locked in the car, with either the AC or the heat going. No one can get to them, nothing can happen to them. I don't see the big deal honestly.

PS - would NOT do this in downtown Chicago, duh

1 mom found this helpful

NEVER. When my kids are adults. There are so many crazy people out there that I am not willing to take the risk at the expense of my children. I would rather take longer, have a more difficult time in the store etc. because my children mean the world to me--- I would NEVER forgive myself if something happened to them and I could have provented it.

M.

1 mom found this helpful

I can see MAYBE leaving my 8 yo in the car for 2 minutes IF I was running into a 7-11 for a quart of milk where I can see the car the entire time AND it's a relatively known safe area but not INTO Target, grocery store etc. No WAY. A 9 year old cannot be made responsible for a 3 yo.
Is that even legal?

1 mom found this helpful

I have left my kids , 9 and 6 in the car for a few minutes when I have to run in somewhere. I had to leave my 9 yr old in the car by her self when she was sick and I HAD to get dog food, she was too sick to walk around the store so I left her in the car for the 10 mins I was in the pet store. She was fine , locked doors she slept for most of it. sitting there with a 3 yr old I don't know about that, but the 9 yr old should be fine.

1 mom found this helpful

Hmmmm.... I do believe it is against the LAW to do this! She could get arrested and the kids could get taken away. Is she nuts????? Have a talk with her and absolutely forbid her to do this in the future. It is just wrong. 9 is way to young, 13 is OK, 9 is not.

1 mom found this helpful

Check your state and city laws on this. Many states have strict laws, and cities have tough ordinances regarding leaving kids in the car unattended. Depending on where you live, it could be considered endangerment of a child, and if she gets caught she could face charges or worse.\

Considering these are your kids too, and you probably don't want unnecessary legal problems, you might want to have a sit down with her about this. Even though she's denying it, she probably doesn't realize she could lose rights to the kids if she gets an abandonment charge or worse.

Besides it is just plain dangerous. Carjackings happen all the time. Locked doors or not, if someone points a gun at your kid's face, or just breaks in, they're toast. Sometimes the kids get found again, but there have been some carjackings with a horrible end for the child/children. On the topic of carjackings, my husband's friend left his hunting dog (black lab) in his locked truck to make a stop at a gas station for some food. The window was barely cracked so the dog could get air. He ran in, got a slushie and chips, came back the dog was kidnapped that fast. He has no idea how they unlocked the car. That was a dog! Now imagine children!

Besides carjackings which is probably one of the worst outcomes of leaving your kids in a car, she shouldn't forget kids are curious monkeys...even toddlers. She might find her car in a nearby ditch or rolling out into traffic if the kids mess with the steering wheel or any other controls in the car. That happend to someone I know. Their car wound up in a creek with the kids trapped inside, after it rolled across a parking lot. They were only in the Starbuck's for 5 minutes getting a cup of Joe. Hmmm.

1 mom found this helpful

No child or children should be left alone in a vehicle, even if it is considered a safe place. Children can get curious and play with the controls on the vehicle and cause it to roll away! Too much bad can happen nowdays! Plus, the mother is running the risk of having her children taken away by CPS if a concerned stranger walks by the car and sees the children left in there and calls the authorities! There have been a few instances of babies being found dead because they were left sleeping in their carseats while the mother went into a store! Not a good price to pay for being too lazy to get the kids out!

1 mom found this helpful

I sometimes leave my 13yr old in the car, but not the 10 or 8yr olds. Never. Yes, it's more of a pain to have them trailing me in a store, but THAT'S part of parenting! A 9yr old and 3yr old?!? That woman is lacking common sense - I really hope her kids won't have to tragically pay for her stupidity.

1 mom found this helpful

I agree with you. This is not okay. I mean, if the toddler started to choke, who's going to call 911? This is why children are not left unattended. Because you never know what might happen. It's not just about stranger-danger, it's also about kids needing an adult, God forbid, *just in case*.

Also, it's not the 9 year old's job to watch the 3 year old. It's the mother's job. I was one of those kids who was held responsible for my younger siblings. At the age of 10, I was left home alone with three younger siblings and told to "mind them" while my mother left for hours. It's lazy parenting. And it's not right to do that to a kid.

What's wrong with taking the kids into the store? It can be difficult to shop with a 3 year old, I know, but it's not impossible! And it's a great opportunity to teach your kids about money, healthy food, math skills, etc. She's missing out on her kids. It's those little moments that you remember.

I would have your husband tell the child's mother that she needs to just take the kids into the darn store. Leaving children unattended is wrong and could be against the law in your area. Look online and I bet you can find out.

Just to answer your question, I have an 11, 9, and 6 year old and I do not leave them in the car.

http://keystosimpleliving.com/kids.php

1 mom found this helpful

This is one of those questions. It's strange. I've said many times on Mamapedia and in other places that I don't agree with people letting kids play outside alone and walk to the bus stop and wait at the bus stop. People let kids play outside in the street, roller blading, basket ball etc.. I've been told in no uncertain terms that I am wrong for judging people for doing this. Kids play outside or wait for the bus stop in the OPEN where any fool can come and take them. And yet, 5 minutes in the store seems like too much with the doors locked?

I think it depends. 9 years old should be old enough to sit with the doors locked IF they understand the dangers of crazy people and wouldn't open the doors for anyone and IF the weather isn't over 70 degrees because people never understand how fast the car heats up. The car can't be left on or the keys in it because a thief/molester could car jack them with the kids in it. So for the most part, no, it's not safe. But I'm baffled about how people are so worried about this and not worried about laying around the house on their lazy butts while their children run around outside! Kids don't have to stay in the yard. Kids can't be trusted to stay in the yard any more than they should be trusted not to be curious about the gear shift. People do it ALL the time.

With what we see in the news, we should NEVER even think about it. But I admit I have ran into certain stores where I could see them when I knew what I needed was right there at or next to the register and I could see in advance no one was in line. I felt stupid and don't like it. So it's not something that we should be doing. My daughter is almost 11 and very responsible. BUT, look at the news!

1 mom found this helpful

It's illegal under any circumstances to leave the 3 year old in the car. The 9 year old is a tougher call because that's the one that probably needs a judgment call with wiggle room in the laws. That said, I won't leave my own 10 year old alone in the car. I won't leave any of my daughters alone until they're 13 years old and have completed the Red Cross babysitting course.

Sometimes "just running into the store" is really subjective. It could mean a literal two minutes or it could mean 15. One of my best friends "just ran into the store" a couple of winters ago when her eldest was 8 and her youngest was 6, and she was arrested when people standing around her car (that she left running to keep them warm) outside of a CVS called the police. She had "only" gone in to pick up prescriptions but was in there for at least half an hour.

I would call the police if I saw young children locked in a car without parents/adults with them. I just would. It's common sense not to leave your children alone in a car. Children get kidnapped in carjackings and children die in over-heated cars and extremely cold cars. Children die from carbon monoxide poisoning in cars that are left running. But then I also call the police when people lock their dogs in cars in extreme weather conditions since that's illegal too.

1 mom found this helpful

I would think the standard is when would they be old enough to leave alone, period. So if you wouldn't leave them home then I wouldn't leave them in a car. But that is my position. Every choice has a consequence. What consequence can a person live with?

Ummmm.....Whats the point of taking your child with if your going to leave them in the car? I have a 11, 8 and 3 year old, and NO I do NOT leave them in the car. I don't know if it's because I watch Nancy Grace alot or what but all it takes is acouple of seconds for something to happen and then what do you do? There have been MANY cases where women have left their kid's in the car to make a quick run in a gas station to pay and come out to find their car missing with the children in it! Why take that chance? I too know alot of people that do it and find nothing wrong with it but technically It IS WRONG! Especially when their not even pre-teen's! I don't understand why any parent would even do that or even take any chance's? That's just my opinion... I would suggest that you have her start watching Nancy Grace...guarentee you she'll think twice!

I leave my girls in the car (9 and 5) While I run into Walgreens for one thing or into the gas station for one thing. These are all just quick trips 30 sec to 3 min) I would never do that at Target or Wal Mart or for a long shopping trip. I also live in a very small town... We dont even lock our back door half the time.

I've heard many moms and dads say, "I only was gone a moment! I had no idea this could happen." Please keep your kids with you at all times. It only takes a moment for something bad to happen that you could regret the rest of your life.

I wouldn't leave my son in the car alone until he was 20 years old!!!

Okay I'm of course joking there. But seriously, 9 and 3 ?? Thats troublesome. Women will take their purses inside with them and leave their child in the car, how nutty is that?
This is exactly why my son's friend ( who is 9 ) cannot bring her 3 year old brother along with her when she comes over to play. She cannot watch him, and she shouldn't have to. She's there to play, not babysit. I keep on eye on the kids when they're playing together, but I can't always watch a 3 year old and everything he gets into.
When I can't 'babysit' I just can't have the little one come over with his sister, I don't expect the 9 year old to take on an adult role.

Well people used to live their kids in the cars all the time when I was growing up. However its just not a safe thing to do.
The only time I leave my children in my car is when I forgot something and have to run back into my house. So they were in my garage or my driveway for about two min.
Also my oldest is 11yrs old and I don't let him stay in the car by himself.

Oh my goodness! Please make her stop doing this! There are so many things that can happen. Have the mom google Jake Robel. It is such a tragic story, but a lesson everyone in my community will never make again. Long story short, the mom picked up her son, Jake, from school and stopped at a Mr. Goodcents to get him a pretzel and drink. She left him in the car, with it running, while she made the quick trip inside the store. She could see him from the inside, but what she saw was a nightmare. A man was stealing her car. She ran outside to get her son, but couldn't get him completely released from his car seat. The child was dragged about 5 miles (half of that on Interstate 70) before people in other cars were finally able to get this man stopped. Jake did not survive. It was simply awful. I just feel so sorry for that mom and to this day (my children are now 2 and 3) I will only park next to the cart stalls at stores so my children are never out of my care for more than a minute! That may be a little over the top, but that poor mom's life changed in an instant for not thinking about that one little detail of taking her son inside with her.
I do believe this is a form of neglect and the mom of your stepkids could get into serious trouble with CPS. Good luck to you and I hope you get this issue resolved!
A.

Just ask her not to do it. My dad did the same thing one time to my 7 yr old and i just asked nicely if he would take her with him when he leaves the vehicle that you never know when a child molestor might see her in car and try to take her. He agreed to never do it again.

I do not leave my children in the car when I'm in a store. In a friend's driveway while I talk to her for a minute? Sure! I even, although I'm not perfectly comfortable with this, leave my sleeping baby in the car with my 4 yr old while it's parked 100 ft from the front of my 2nd grader's school, while I walk to the door of the school to get him---which only happens if I'm late to pick him up. So like once a month. They're in view at all times.

Have you googled this question? I wonder if there's something from CPS about this. You could call and ask CPS, but things can get serious if you do that (as I'm experiencing this week!) But if you're ready to try to get custody or something, that'd be the way to go.

I would only do that to run into the gas station to pay for gas while my car was right at the door but other than that my my youngest, 4 will always come with me. I will leave my almost 8 year old in the car if I know I will only be about 5 minutes and he has something to occupy himself.

Well, it's going to take one time for a concerned passerby to see these children in the car unattended and the police will be called and the mom may be in trouble. Not the ideal situation but it can happen. It's not safe. I don't know what else you can do other than to emphasize to the mother how unsafe it is.

Wow! That's so dangerous! I can't imagine doing that!

In answer to the question as to how old...I'd say maybe 12. My rationale for that is if they're old enough to stay home alone, they're old enough to stay in the car. But, I don't know...there are an awful lot of crazies out there in the world.

There is always a risk when leaving kids in the car, regardless of the age, but something like this, the age of the people within your family, is reckless and dangerous. It will only take one phone call from a concerned passerby to the police to teach her, hopefully a lesson that will end, safely. Everyone parents differently, but sadly, as much as she may have 100% complete faith and trust in her children, what she fails to see, is that today, you cannot trust anyone...either she hires a sitter to stay at home with the kids, brings the kids inside with her, to teach them how to manage themselves, or she risks far more things then possibly imaginable. It can happen, it does happen, and hopefully her children won't be part of that story. I pray for street smarts to intervene within her stream of thought

Updated

Maybe a phone call to the sd's local police department, or even the school, for a "suggestion" that the police come to the school and discuss "Safety." To discuss "strangers" This 9 year old sounds very wise, sadly, for her age, and something tells me, that if she hears from a "field trip" within her school that the police discuss the rights and wrongs of being left in a car, and how children can respectfully approach this with the adult driver, she'll earn more knowledge and you'll have more peace about it.
To this day, whenever my sons' see a police man, they always say, "Mommy, remember the time that you were at the dentist, and Dad was driving to pick you up with us, and the police pulled him over because he wasn't following the speed signs?" My poor husband, although in truth, he shouldn't have been speeding 10 over, has never been able to live that down, and thankfully, the children of our world, have proven to be safe reminders, respectfully, reminding us adults, to slow down, take their time, and don't rush--in any manner. best of luck for all of you!!! ____@____.com one Crusty Mom-E

While I agree that leaving a 9-year old and 3-year old in the car by themselves for extended periods of time (like shopping trips), I have left my 7-year old and 1 1/2-year old in the car for all of 30 seconds while I run into the gas station to pay, or run back into the house if I forget something. Doors are always locked, keys are always with me (so no one can get in and no adventurous kid can put the car in gear). I hesitantly did it at first, because like most of the moms on here, I am extremely paranoid when it comes to my kids' safety. But you know what? I have to pay for my gas since I am no longer using credit cards...or I have to get my cell phone off the counter in the kitchen. That sort of stuff happens.

It is ok for the kids to be out of sight for a minute. But at such young ages, I would NEVER leave them for longer. Remember when we were all kids? We were outside playing all over the neighborhood at some pretty young ages! Amazingly, there were bad guys then, too. But we do need to keep a little perspective with our kids; and at some point, we do need to allow them to sprout their own wings. That doesn't mean push them out of the nest when they're not ready/able! It just means that we have to nurture trust and gradually increase the trust so that when the right time comes, they'll know what to do.

I leave mine - 3 and almost 9 while I run in to get something at the gas station, or my prescription at walgreens, 1 or 2 minutes at the most.

I make everyone come with me at all times and that is how it will be until a child is responsible enough to take care of any and all emergencies. What happens to that child if Mom while in any store becomes ill and removed via ambulance or the car catches fire(not likely but it has happened), gets hit by another car, someone smashes the window and takes the toddler? A child should not be left anywhere alone until they are able to cope with an emergency in an adult like manner. There have been court cases regarding this and while DCFS has no specific age listed you can see the trend of about the age of 13 as being responsible enough not to receive neglect charges. If she is in too much of a rush to take the kids out of the car then she needs to rethink her schedule and possibly ask others for assistance or have a service deliver her groceries to buy herself more time.

I called the police once to ask in Massachusetts how old a child needed to be before they can be left home alone for a half hour so I can run to the store. The office answered that there is no age, but the child would need to know how to handle emergencies like: what to do when there is a fire, what to do if someone comes to the door, what if sibling falls and hurts themselves, what if sibling starts choking. I am not sure my 14 year old would know what to do with all those situations, but I tell them NOT to eat anything while I am gone (no gum, no snacks, nothing) since they would not know what to do with choking. I close the garage door and lock the front door and tell them to open the living room slider and run to the neighbors behind us if there is a fire. 9 and 3 is too young in my opinion.

If, as I do, you live in a small town and pull up in front of the store and you
are only going to get milk, bread etc it is OK. Oh that is assuming you
can see the car. Target, Walgreens absolutely not.

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