Keeping kids safe in busy parking lots

Ed's trick for keeping his son in one place while he packs the groceries into the car:

There is nothing more dangerous than a 5 year old in a parking lot while you are trying to put the groceries away.  I started playing a little game of “Assume the position” with my son to keep him by the car and out of trouble.

Josh would place both hands on the side of the car, feet back and spread’em!  He once again would not move until I said the magic word… “release”. I would get some pretty interesting looks from passers by.

I would praise my son for making my life so much easier and was always sure to add how safe it made me feel, knowing he was being so helpful.

Wow. I doubt this hack would have flown with my strong-willed son. But, then, Ed has a way of making it fun…I wonder? I just made sure that my kids were in the car, belted, before I even opened the trunk to unload the groceries.


  1. Divrchk says

    As I was reading this hack, I was wondering why not put the kids in the car first and then put the groceries in the trunk. That’s what I do and it works great. It also gives me 2 minutes to myself :-)

  2. Shelley says

    I do one of two things. Either put her in the trunk, of the SUV, and have her help from inside or I always have them pack 2 or 3 small bags and then she can help me load the groceries into the car. She is always happy to help. Of course this works with a 29 month old, I don’t know how long the “I want to help” phase will last.

  3. oddharmonic says

    In the Texas heat, putting the kid in the car while we load groceries would require having the car running in order for the car to not be too hot to sit in while we load groceries. Now I do grocery shopping while she’s in school, which also allows me to take the bike and panniers so there’s no car involved.

    We do use a similar tactic to Ed’s to keep her from stepping away from the car or an adult when we have more than one or two other people getting into or out of the car. She was a runner at an early age and training her to be touching the car or an adult in a parking lot was the logical progression once we transitioned away from reins, aka a toddler harness. (Some people take offense at the idea of a “child leash”, but it was a very good solution for us.)

  4. Mommyprof says

    We do one hand on the car when it is too hot to put her in first. Works with a wiggly kid.

  5. James says

    I do this, too. I say “hand on the car” and she knows to keep her hand on the car. I’ve done it since she was really little and now she knows to do it. I keep talking to her to make sure she’s paying attention and doesn’t get distracted.

  6. Tracy says

    Also hands on the car here. My four-year-old was a pro, but my 23-month-old needs me to constantly chant “Hands on the car, hands on the car,” so she doesn’t lose concentration and wander off. Usually it’s the time I need to unlock the car (central locking) and load in the kids’ bags or small items. If it’s groceries, they sit in the trolley or in the car while I unload.

  7. Helen says

    We use ‘Hand on the car’ also. Works very well.

    I also try to park right by the cart return – that way I don’t have to juggle unloading the cart w/the kids outside of the car, then returning the cart with the kids tagging along, then going back & putting kids in the car.

  8. Kim says

    We did two hands on the car 8 and 9 years ago when mine were toddlers. I still recommend it to parents with little ones, but often get looks like, “That would never work.” Worked like a charm for us.

  9. Lynne says

    I usually keep my daughter (almost 5) in the cart while I unload, and don’t let her out until I’ve brought the cart to the corral, then we walk to the car together. Although lately (now that she’s really too big to buckle in the cart) she has learned a new trick of climbing into the back of the SUV while I’m unloading, and “helping” me. My husband however just says “parking lot rules!” and she magically holds his hand and stays close to the car and watches out for other cars. I have no idea how he trained her on that one! Of course, he doesn’t manage the weekly grocery trip but this still helps me sometimes.

  10. Amy says

    I use tricks like this more often when we’re getting out of the car, especially if I’ve forgotten something and need a few minutes to retrieve a purse, or whatever. I have a very active 3 year old and no amount of making it a game would accomplish him standing still in a parking lot. I’ll ask my son to push on the car and pretend he is trying to push it over. This keeps him entertained and in one place for a second or two while I regroup.

  11. Daniel Penczak says

    We tell my 4 yr old to stay on the yellow parking space lines or be touching the car.

  12. Kami says

    My mom used to have us stand in a line on the white line as well while she was getting the baby or groceries in/out. She had five kids all born two years apart, of course by this time the older kids could help the younger ones remember to stay in line also. It worked great for us.

  13. Sandy says

    I use the “stand on the white or yellow line” trick too. In snowy Minnesota, there are many times when I really don’t want them touching the slushy salty gunk on my car!

  14. hedra says

    Here, too, though it doesn’t work when I do it, and does when DH does. So even if it doesn’t work for you, see if it will work for your partner/spouse/grandparent, if they need it.

  15. glynis says

    I’ve never heard of this but LOVE it! My 21 mth old is a wild one & I know this idea will be useful as he gets older. Thanks!

  16. christie says

    I have twins (4yo) — I ask them to hold onto the inside door handle ( ditto for the nasty Minnesota winter car gunk) or my pocket. When the car is clean (haha) sometimes I ask them to put a hand on a taillight, or the gas tank door. A specific spot is helpful.

  17. Kate says

    Given last week’s “hack” from Ed, I think he’s a bit too fond of being able to tell his son “Release,” and a bit too insensitive about how such commands from his father can be demeaning.

  18. LisaS says

    Kate, maybe I’m an insensitive lout myself–I do, after all, yell/say “Freeze!” to my kids to make them stop running in the house/the grocery store/parking lots, etc.–but I don’t understand how having a one-word signal that it’s okay to move/resume normal activities is demeaning to a child. On the contrary–having that level of control, particularly of small children, might save a life. Can you help me understand what you mean?

  19. Kate says

    It’s the “assume the position” part – followed by the ‘release’ – that bothered me most, Lisa. Last week Ed wrote about “ground-tying” his child then issuing a “release command” while standing in the checkout line. This week it’s “assuming the position” followed by the same word.

    As Ed himself writes, he doesn’t just have his child put his hand on the car. Josh is to put “both hands on the side of the car, feet back and spread’em!” Ed even acknowledges that passers by give them strange looks.

    Why the strange looks? Well, because this is the position criminals are told to assume. Follow it with a “release” signal and, well, it just sounds creepy rather than coming across as a parent trying to educate and instill a child with good judgment and responsibility for personal safety.

  20. Jennifer says

    Usually my daughter is very good about staying with us and DS I keep in the cart or carry. Of course all of this depends on whether I’m flying solo with the kids or if DH is with me too. I usually load the kids in first then the groceries and also park near the cart corral. I’m also more likely to park near an open area of the lot that’s less congested.

    I unfortunately learned the hard way to keep a close hand on my daughter at the check out. We were checking out and she took a few steps near the door and it opened automatically and she was out into the street! I hadn’t considered the automatic doors to be a hazard before that! Now our handholding starts at the check out out to the car.

  21. Christi says

    I see where Kate is coming from – the combination of both hacks is just kind of creepy to me, and something about the word ‘release’ feels odd. That said, I think safety in parking lots is so important that it’s really good to be having this discussion. Also, I don’t want to assume anything about a relationship between parent and child based upon this atonal medium: we don’t know an awful lot about the interaction.

  22. hedra says

    While I’m still not as concerned by this as other people are (I have a friend who would do exactly this, and it would ‘work’ just fine), I do see the pattern of ‘playing with the child as if the child were a toy’ – it is the same stuff my kids try with their younger siblings until the younger siblings are old enough to demand something better (and/or we intervene and insist they treat each other with respect). Heck, I remember treating my own little brother that way. He seemed to enjoy it, went along, didn’t complain. He also told me as an adult that he hated it, but he felt it was the only way to be allowed to play – if he didn’t go along, the only other option was solitude. The typically unequal power structure between parent and child can make this seem like all good fun, when it actually isn’t. It very much depends on the exact implementation, and how the power is shared out. Could be a collaboration in messing with the collective parenting consciousness (we’re in it together, the joke’s on THEM), or could be not.

    But we do stil use the hands-on-the-car routine (funny, after posting yesterday, it failed to work for DH, though he did get them to put hands on him instead…).

  23. LisaS says

    I think the oddness of the word “release” is what I like about it–there’s no way the child can mistake the communication.

    And I think we can establish that at the very least, Ed & his progeny have a relationship based on an off-kilter sense of humour …. whether it’s playful or creepy is completely in the reader’s eye ….

  24. Tim says

    My kids are older now, but I used to get them to hold on to the trolley (the ‘cart’ for you guys in the US!) – i.e. while we were walking through the car park, and once we got to the car. They feel like they’re performing an important little job in helping to steer the trolley, and holding it still while I unload! Not sure about all these artificial protocols like “assume the position” and “release” – it’s a bit weird and unnecessary.

  25. Eric says

    I had a process which worked well with my kids. I would unbuckle them, and hold their hand while they got out of the car. If I had to get something else, they put a hand on the car, and it stayed there until *I* took it off. I would take their hand off, and hold hands with them through the lot to the store. Once in the store, we either held hands, or they held a hand on the cart. (Kept them from getting too far away in the store.) Going back to the car, we reversed things. They either held the cart, or my hand, to the car. Put a hand on the car, or keep hold of the cart, depending on what had to be loaded into the car.

    The funny thing is, my daughter is almost 11 and she still gets out of the car, and stands close to it. When we start across the lot, she grabs my hand. Once in the store, she holds a hand lazily on the cart.

  26. jrcrum says

    I tell them to “hold on to the car”, it keeps them within arms length, and puts it in terms they understand.

  27. Hal Lesesne says

    Personally, I’ve always had my son or daughter hold my pant’s pocket – not just for loading or unloading the car, but also for anything that I had to do when I used two hands and couldn’t hold theirs.

    I made myself mindful as well that *anything* I was holding was of far less value then they, keeping me aware of whether or not they were holding my pant’s pocket.

  28. mbutler says

    I’ve heard “release” used most often in dog training. Sit, stay, release. That’s what makes it demeaning in my mind.

  29. Natalie says

    I put my little one(who is 4) in the cart then have them hand me the bags…that way they are safe, helping out, and I unload my stuff carefree!

  30. lifewithmadd says

    When going to the van in a parking lot I say “Tag the Van!” Madd puts a hand on the van and doesn’t move it until I tell him its ok to get in. Works great for me!