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The Other Gifts We Give Our Kids

Christmas dayThere are many traditions at this time of year that involve parents giving their children presents – whether obviously or through Santa subterfuge! But there are many gifts we give our kids throughout the year that have a much more lasting impact than the latest hot video game or toy, even if our little people don’t yet realize it or always appreciate our efforts.  Below is a selection of some of these gifts of love.

Vaccinations

The WHO cites a book on the history of vaccination that says only clean water has done more for the health and wellness of mankind.  Historical books, movies and TV shows detail just how frightening the diseases we vaccinate against once were. The shots we get for our children are a gift that provides a lifetime of protection – for them and those around us.

Safe Home

Every time parents install a cabinet lock to hide chemical cleaners, secure heavy furniture and TVs against tipping, or reduce the setting of their water heater they are providing invaluable gifts to their children – reduction in the risk of preventable poisoning, injury, burns. The Consumer Product
Safety Commission
says that 22,000 kids are seen in Emergency Departments each year due to injuries from furniture and TV tip-overs – and 26 kids die annually from these incidents.

Safe Transport

Around 400-500 child deaths are prevented in the US every year due to use of car seats and other child restraints – and that’s not counting the reduction in severe injuries from use of safety seats for kids. Every time we strap them into a car seat we are giving them a precious gift and teaching them good car safety habits for when they become drivers.

Healthy Eating Appreciation

Obesity is one of the greatest health crises of our age, given its link to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, liver disease, sleep apnea, arthritis, and even several cancers. Helping our children appreciate food for its support of health is a gift that keeps giving over a lifetime.

Active Lifestyle Encouragement

As parents, we all want our children to live a long and happy life. Physical activity is a important contributor to this goal, given how it reduces risk for chronic diseases and even improves mental health, sleep and mood.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, “only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity. People who are physically active for about 7 hours a week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week.”

Getting our kids to be active – and, more importantly, being a role model for physical activity is literally a gift of life.

Protection from Excessive/Inappropriate Online Exposure

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics has updated their guidelines for “screen time” to better reflect how entrenched online usage now is at all ages, they still make recommendations – such as focusing on content and engaging with your kids around screens – to ensure a valuable online experience.  Putting limits in place for when our kids can access the internet and what they can see is an important gift for protecting their online reputation and preventing inappropriate connections.

So while you are savoring your kids squeals of delight when they open their presents during the holidays, remember to pat yourself on the back for all the other gifts you labor to give them year-round – gifts that protect them for a lifetime.

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A Question on Vehicle Booster Seats Answered

Several years ago I wrote a post on booster seats (I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?) about how my then 9 year old son didn’t want to keep Portrait Of Girl Holding Booster Seat Standing Next To Carusing a booster seat in the car because none of his friends did anymore and he felt he was old enough to use the regular seat belt. The point of the article was that guidelines issued in 2011 recommended using a booster seat until a child reaches 4’9” tall (57 inches) and weighs between 80 and 100 pounds – generally in the range of 8-12 years of age. This continues to be one of our most read posts on the site and still gets occasional comments – which indicates the ongoing confusion and lack of clear laws and communication about what constitutes safe car travel for our older kids.

Recently one of our readers asked a very good question about my post – which warranted some extra research:

My car (Jeep Cherokee, older) has a bench seat in back, and the back of the seat is somewhat low. If my 8 year old son is not in a booster, his head and neck are against the seat and supported; in a booster, his shoulders, neck and head are above the seat back and completely unsupported. In a wreck, that booster would cause his neck to be snapped. I really hate that the law forces me to endanger him that way with the booster. Buying a new car isn’t an option, and I wish there were some sort of aftermarket option that was safe and crash-tested, which would allow the belt to fit him and keep him out of the booster. Suggestions?

To get an expert perspective on this issue, I turned to Stephanie Tombrello, LCSW, CPSTI, Executive Director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. According to Tombrello, “if a parent has a vehicle with a low-back vehicle seat, the immediate recommendation is a high back booster. There are many options in every price range and with a variety of backs.” The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a recommended list of “Good Bets” for booster seats in 2015, many of which are high back models. Additionally, “for some children, the Dorel (Safety 1st) Incognito booster for children 60-120 lbs. can be low enough to allow for fitting the belt properly while not placing the child high in the vehicle,” says Tombrello.

If none of these options suit, parents can consider an alternative to booster seats – the Safe Traffic System RIDESAFER Travel Vest – which Tombrello also recommended.  These vests, which are billed as the world’s first wearable child restraint system, reduce the load transferred to the child in a crash, thereby providing better safety. However, please note that these vests are limited to a weight of 80 pounds and height of 57 inches.

Virtually no US laws make it clear that children need booster seats until adult belts fit – and there’s little guidance to parents on how to determine fit. Tombrello cautions “that children must be able to pass the 5-Step Test before dispensing with a booster. The potential injuries to the bowel or stomach from the misplaced lap belt are significant.” See the box below for the steps to take to determine if and when your child can graduate to adult seat belts – and go to www.carseat.org for more information on protecting children and pregnant women in the car.

The 5-Step Test
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

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Texas’ New Child Vehicular Heatstroke Law: What It Means to Me

The Sun is Setting on Vehicular heatstrokeI received a call on the evening of Friday, June 19, 2015, which brought me to tears for the remainder of the weekend. Tears of bittersweet joy; tears of validation from four exhausting years of battle against the often unknown danger of Child Vehicular Heatstroke (aka child hot car deaths or vehicular hyperthermia) due to Forgotten Backseat Baby Syndrome (FBS); and most importantly, tears of HOPE.  What was the origin of such passionate tears?  The signing of Texas HB2574 into law by Governor Abbott that day. This law adds the danger of child vehicular heatstroke to the list of topics that must be reviewed with parents of newborns prior to hospital discharge as required by the Texas Health and Safety Code.  It is unique in the setting of vehicular heatstroke laws in that it provides for information and resources for PREVENTION of children being left unattended in vehicles BEFORE a child enters a vehicle for the first time.  Other vehicular heatstroke laws only address punishment for leaving children unattended in vehicles or exemption from prosecution of good samaritans who break into vehicles to rescue unattended children.

My Vehicular Heatstroke StoryONE WRONG TURN to Tragedy

My entire household overslept on the morning of May 25, 2011.  I was awakened by Ray Ray’s sweet giggles and kisses on my face, followed by a glance at the clock that read 9:43 am!!!!  We rushed to get ready for our day, then I followed my husband and child to his truck, where we both placed Ray Ray securely in her car seat.  I waved as they descended down the driveway, then carried on with my workday.  ray ray family pic 2011I had no idea that a tragic error, one that would decimate my family, would be made in the next seven minutes: a RIGHT turn at a critical traffic intersection instead of the LEFT turn required to reach Ray Ray’s childcare center.

Fast forward less than three hours later.  I picked up my husband at his office for a quick lunch date.  We talked during that drive about our little princess and how beautiful she was in her new dress, a birthday gift from her teacher, for “Tropical Day” at the daycare.  Then, as I pulled into the parking lot, my husband said to me, “Go back to the office”. I asked why. He repeated, “just go back to the office…. Immediately”.  As I approached a red traffic light, he instructed me to run the light…this was so weird to me, so I asked:  “WHAT is going on?”  Then my world started spinning as I heard his words:  “I can’t remember dropping Ray Ray off at daycare this morning”.

As I sped to the office, I instructed him to call the office and have them check the truck.  At the same time, I called the daycare….almost simultaneously as I heard confirmation from her teacher that she was not present, the office manager told my husband that they removed her from the truck.  Two calls to 911 were placed within one minute of each other, one by me, the other from the office.  Despite all of our efforts to save her, Sophia Rayne (aka “Ray Ray”), my soulmate, was pronounced dead at 2:49 pm.  My soul died as she did, and my heart broke into millions of pieces, some of which would never be recovered….In short, my entire world crumbled into dust.  Sadly, there would be many more cases that summer, and in the years since, many whose stories sounded EXACTLY like ours:  a forgotten childcare drop-off by a responsible parent. Many of them also originating from one wrong turn on the morning of that fateful drive.

Child Vehicular Heatstroke:  Just the Facts

jan null airbag vs heatstroke death - graphChild vehicular heatstroke is the leading non-traffic cause of fatalities for children under 14 years of age.  According to data from noheatstroke.org by Jan Null, CCM, at least 647 children have perished since 1998 from this often unrecognized, commonly misperceived danger to child passenger safety.  Most of these children were mistakenly forgotten in the backseat by good parents, victims of ‘Forgotten Backseat Baby Syndrome’ (FBS; an unintended consequence of moving children to the backseat in the 1990s).  They were most frequently on their way to a childcare provider when they were tragically forgotten.  The second most common source of child hot car deaths:  UNLOCKED CARS! Almost 30 percent of cases involve children gaining access to an unlocked vehicle then becoming trapped inside.  Sadly, nearly 75 percent of all child hot car deaths involve children under the age of two (Data on file, Ray Ray’s Pledge).

The NEW Vehicular Heatstroke Law in Texas (HB2574)

Reqd Safety Info for Parents of Newborns TX

Texas leads the nation in child hot car deaths.  As of this writing, at least 96 little Texans have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1998. My precious Ray Ray was number 74.  Prior to my loss, I had NEVER heard about the remote possibility of a sane, responsible parent forgetting one’s child in the backseat under the perfect storm of conditions such as change in routine, sleep deprivation, and/ or stress paired with a fateful distraction while driving (eg: a wrong turn, road construction leading to detoured route, being cut off in traffic by another driver, an emergency phone call)….NOT at my OB appointments, not in the numerous parenting classes we took as nervous first-time parents-to-be, not at the hospital after she was born, and not in our pediatrician’s office. I have waged my own war against child vehicular heatstroke over the past four years to change that for other families.  NO child should have to die for a family or a community to learn about this danger to child passenger safety for the first time.  The new vehicular heatstroke education requirement prior to newborn hospital discharge in Texas provides the first critical step to making sure that parents are informed of the dangers of children left unattended in vehicles WITHOUT a child having to die in order to gain such knowledge.  Texas HB2574 gives me hope and new inspiration to fight even harder in my war to end child vehicular heatstroke.  As a parent survivor of a vehicular heatstroke victim, I am so proud of the team of citizens and legislators who made this possibility a REALITY.  Further, I feel validated that, FINALLY, child vehicular heatstroke will be recognized as a danger as pertinent to new parents as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

RRP logo 2014A Call to Action for Other States

In conclusion, I urge parents from other states to contact your legislators and demand the same vehicular heatstroke education for new parents. Though not foolproof, early preventive education of a too-often unknown danger to child passenger safety is a great start to driving to zero child hot car deaths.  The life that is saved by such information could be YOUR child!

For more information and resources related to child vehicular heatstroke, please visit our website:  www.RayRaysPledge.com.

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Summer Seatbelt Safety: For Your Family’s Sake

Everyone wears a seatbeltAs the school year winds down and summer travel plans go into action, families will get in the car and drive all around this great country of ours.   Let’s face it, summer does mean the kids are out of school and usually need someplace to go before they tear the house down and getting in the car and going somewhere, anywhere is usually what happens.   But before you head out in the car this summer, whether it is for the cross country journey or the 5 minute ride to the park, please put on your seat belt.

We have all heard the sayings “Seat Belts Save Lives” or “click it or ticket”.   In 2009 the NHTSA released a study saying that over 1600 lives could be saved each year and over 22,000 serious injuries could be avoided each year if seat belt use rose to 90% in drivers and passengers in automobiles and I am here to tell you that it is more than true.  Having responded to many traffic accidents and seen the results of both wearing and not wearing a seatbelt, I can honestly say that seatbelts do save lives every day.   Let’s be honest.  How long does it take to put on a seatbelt?  A few seconds? , that does not sound too unreasonable to be part of the thousands of lives saved every year does it?.

Many states handle seatbelt laws differently.  Some states require seatbelts and some do not.  Whether your state requires it or not, before we head out onto the roadway let us think about the people in the car shall we?

The Driver – You.  Adults are the WORST offenders about not wearing seatbelts.    When you put your seat belt on, you are keeping yourself safer in case of accident and you also give a good example to the other passengers regardless of age.

The Kids – Kids are always watching us to see how we do things and what is acceptable and if you put on your seatbelt every time you get in the car then the kids will begin to model your behavior and after a while it can become an automatic response from them, no matter what car they get in.  Now smaller children may need help and may require you to click them in properly and safely before yourself.  Infants and smaller children in car seats will obviously need the help but also the children in the booster seats may need some additional help, plus a quick check and tug on the belts they put on by themselves never hurts.

Teenagers – Teenagers are some of the worst offenders of not wearing seatbelts right after adults.   Teenagers have an invincibility about them which is normal but should never be allowed to talk you out of making them put on the seatbelt regardless of the distance of the trip.

Pets –  We do not normally think about our pets when it comes to seal belt time but pets are passengers too and if the pets are coming with us in the car then there needs to be a way to make sure they are secure.   There are a number of pet friendly carries and devices for the car that make this possible.

The bottom line is that seatbelts DO save lives.   I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to look at someone who just had a car accident and tell them “good thing you were wearing your seat belt “.

Have a Great Summer, Be Safe and Buckle Up……..All of you!

Thank You

Photo credit: MoDOT PhotosCC license

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The Facts About Teens in Cars (Infographic)

The following infographic is courtesy of Safe Kids Worldwide. Many teens are texting and riding in cars without seatbelts…and this doesn’t always stop when our teens start driving. Click here to access the research report and find out more about cars and teen safety. Safe Kids Infographic on Teen Driving

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One Decision: Tragic Results -Please Look Before You Lock (Video)

“It could never happen to me.” “I would never leave my child alone in the car – not for a minute.” “No GOOD parent would ever forget their child!”

But it happens every day. According to KidsandCars on average 38 children die in hot cars each year, about one every 10 days from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles. This year alone there have been 23 child vehicular heat-stroke deaths. And this is not counting the life-altering injuries experienced by the children who survive.

It happens…

Napping in the back seatChildren climb into unlocked cars to play. A child is sleeping in the back-seat and a parent “cracks open the window” and runs into the store for “just one thing” (…illegal in some states but in a NHTSA survey, 25% of parents admitted they had done this at least once). A spouse / partner / caregiver carefully buckles the baby into the car seat to drop them off at daycare. Maybe it wasn’t their day to drive…or maybe something distracts them for just one second. It’s just a little departure from the usual morning routine – only this time they forget the baby sleeping in the back seat (…more likely now since the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their guidelines to recommend that children remain rear-facing in car seats until they reach the age of two.  A parent looking in the rear-view mirror no longer sees their child’s face – just the back of the car seat – whether their child is in it, or not).

It happens…

How hot vehicles get…and it doesn’t have to be 100 degrees outside for the consequences to be devastating. According to NHTSA’s report on “Unattended Children and Cars, even cool temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature to rise well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit inside your car. The inside temperature can rise almost 20 degrees F within the first 10 minutes”. Within an hour the temperature jumps around 50 degrees F. If the outside temperature is in the low 80’s F, the temperature inside the vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes. Slightly rolling the window down has almost no impact on these temperature increases.

Take a look at this simulation produced by the SafeKids organization of how fast a car can heat up when exposed to direct sunlight

Children’s bodies – in particular infants and children under 4 years of age – are at greatest risk for heat-related illness. They absorb more heat and are less able to lower their body heat by sweating. Because a child’s thermoregulatory system is not fully developed, their bodies warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. Hyperthermia occurs when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate. A core body temperature of 107 degrees F is considered lethal because cells are damaged and internal organs shut down.

It happens…

ray rays pledge logo

To the most loving, caring parents…the most responsible caregivers. These are not “those horrible people who should never have been allowed near children”. Take a minute to read Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero’s story about the day her husband Brett took one wrong turn and drove to the office instead of dropping their beloved daughter Sophia (Ray Ray to those who loved her) off at daycare. It wasn’t until they met for lunch later in the day that they realized something was wrong. By that time Ray Ray had been in his truck for 3 hours. An hour and 19 minutes later she was gone.

But this isn’t just Ray Ray’s story. More than 1 in 5 kids who die of heatstroke in a car were supposed to be dropped off at daycare that morning – and no one questioned their whereabouts until it was too late. Now Kristie has made “Ray Ray’s Pledge” her lives’ work – to establish a “daycare safety net” and make sure this doesn’t happen to another child. Other parents have made similar pledges. To share the story of their children’s tragedies here, in interviews, in every public forum possible – in the hopes of saving just one family the pain they have endured.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT ANOTHER TRAGEDY??

  • Child Vehicle Heatstroke Prevention Tips from NHTSA:
    • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.
    • Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
    • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
    • If you are dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have them call you to make sure the drop went according to plan. Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up.
    • Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as:wheresbaby4
      • Keep a large object such as a stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty. Move the stuffed animal to the front seat when you place the child in the seat as a visual reminder.
      • Place your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat so that you will have to check the back seat when you leave the vehicle
    • If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle: call the police. If the
      y are in distress get them out as quickly as possible and cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately
  • Download the KidsandCars Safety Checklist and keep it handy
  • Take Ray Ray’s Pledge
    • You Pledge: to call your child’s teacher if he or she will be late or absent
    • Teacher Pledges: to call YOU immediately if your child does not arrive at his or her usual time
  • Today is National Heat Awareness Day:  Please Help Us Raise Awareness!
    • Ray Ray’s Pledge, KidsAndCars.org, Safe Kids Worldwide, Jan Null (Certified Consulting Meteorologist, San Francisco State University), Child Care Aware of America, National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) and Pediatric Safety will join the National Weather Service in a day of social media conversation to raise public awareness of child hot car deaths
    • We will be tweeting and posting on Facebook every hour on the hour (9am – 5pm ET) facts and prevention tips related to child vehicular heatstroke, the leading non-traffic, non-crash cause of death for children.
    • Please join the conversation…and use the hashtag #heatstroke to let us know you’re here.
    • For more info and sample tweets click here 

“If you think it can’t happen to you, then it could and it might…  Tell yourself it COULD happen to me and then do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t.”
…kidsandcars.org

And if you ever catch yourself saying…”I’ll only be gone for a moment”… please do two things:

  1. Consider the following question: If someone gave you a million dollars – would you leave it sitting there unattended in your car – even for a moment? Isn’t your baby’s life worth more?
  2. Consider watching this video…and then maybe even share it:
    Before you do, know that it is very graphic and may be upsetting…so please think twice before you watch it.

Please also know that this was a re-enactment – no one was harmed in the making of this film

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July of 2013.  We are republishing it today to commemorate this year’s National Heat Awareness Day.

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