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Moms and dads the world over all worry about their kids, wondering if they’ll grow up to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted humans. But unlike parents in other countries, American parents seem to take a regular bashing about what we’re doing wrong.


To further fan the flames of our insecurity, just scan the ever-burgeoning parenting section in a local bookstore for hundreds of titles on how to “do” every aspect of parenting better, from potty training to Ivy League preparation. Our bundle of joy turns us into a bundle of nerves as we constantly strive to raise the bar on our own parenting skills. As Washington Post journalist Brigid Shulte points out on NPR’s Tell Me More, we’re an achievement culture, always wanting to be our best and pushing our kids to be their best.

The persistent portrayal of how American parents raise their kids shows that we’re (apparently) a society of helicopter parents who hyper-focus on enrichment, but who, according to Tiger Mom Amy Chua, seem perfectly content letting our kids turn out badly. We feel the push-pull of simultaneously being over-involved and over-scheduled, yet not driving our kids hard enough to achieve perfection.

Besides being maligned and feeling insecure, we’re also perplexed, as new parenting styles pop up every year, sometimes contradicting our own approach and making us second-guess our parenting skills. In the end, many American parents feel dazed, confused, and filled with self-doubt, wondering if we’re doing it all wrong.

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“We’re so very afraid of getting it wrong that we overdo it to try to get it right,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University, in an essay published in the 2016 edition of “The Parents League Review.”

But, are American parents really that bad? Do we truly suck at raising our own kids?

No, and we need to stop thinking that we’re doing everything wrong.

Fortunately, more than 50 percent of parents with children younger than 18 think they do a very good job raising their kids, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,807 U.S. parents.  The findings also show that parents (whether married or single) care a lot about how others view their parenting skills. Roughly nine out of ten married or cohabiting parents (93 percent) say it matters a lot that their spouse or partner sees them as a good parent. And parents still want to impress their own parents, as 72 percent of those with a living parent want their own parents to think they’re doing a good job raising their kids.

“It’s time to put an end to the everything-you-do-is-wrong school of parent criticism, which puts us all in an impossible bind,” writes Perri Klass, M.D., Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, in a New York Times blog.

Shulte echoes that sentiment in her NPR interview, saying that “it doesn’t do anybody any good…  it just fosters an element of competition among parents that is really not very helpful for anybody and probably the least helpful for the child.”

Our best bet? We need to ignore the guilt-inducing finger-pointing and keep in mind there’s no one “right way” to raise kids. Instead of focusing on parenting trends, societal pressures, media-driven values, and mommy wars, we need to focus more on praise, support and acknowledgement of all the good we are doing.

What, specifically, are American parents doing right?

1 | More moms breastfeed.

Research continues to demonstrate that breastfeeding provides many substantial physical and mental health benefits to both infants and mothers. Increasingly, mothers in the U.S. are heeding the message, according to Child Trends, the nation’s leading nonprofit research organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth, and their families.

Between 2000 and 2011, the U.S. saw a growing proportion of infants who were breastfed, with the biggest increase (70 percent) of infants still being breastfed at 12 months (from 16 to 27 percent). Overall, more than three-quarters of infants were breastfed for at least some duration, an increase of 12 percent (from 71 to 79 percent).

2 | Parents protect their kids and their community through vaccinations.

According to a 2015 study in “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” vaccination rates among children ages 19-35 months for 2014 remained high. Over 90 percent of children received vaccinations for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR); polio; hepatitis B; and varicella.

3 | Families still eat dinner together.

A 2013 Gallup poll of U.S. families shows that, despite our busy lifestyle, the majority of U.S. families still eat dinner together. Among adults with children younger than 18, more than 50 percent eat dinner together at home at least six nights a week. 

4 | Parents spend more time on educational activities than previous generations.

We read to our kids, ask them questions, play math games, and teach life skills. Americans of all socioeconomic backgrounds devote increasing amounts of time to stretching kids’ minds compared to our parents or grandparents, says the Institute for Family Studies. Although parents with higher levels of education are more likely to devote time to educationally enriching activities than less educated parents, in general, we’re all doing better than we did just a few decades ago.

5 | Parents set a good example of civic involvement.

According to 2014 statistics from the Corporation for National and Community Service, 32.7 percent of parents volunteer, donating 2.3 billion hours of service in activities such as fundraising, tutoring, mentoring, coaching, and collecting/distributing food. And 2013 data shows that 96.1 percent frequently talk with neighbors, 44.5 percent of parents participate in groups and/or organizations, and 89.8 percent of parents engage in “informal volunteering” (such as helping out neighbors).

6 | Teens get high marks for giving back.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenagers (16 to 19 years old) continue to have a relatively high volunteer rate, at 26.4 percent, compared to 20- to 24-year-olds (18.4 percent), and 25 to 34 years (22.3 percent).

7 | Substance use among teens is declining.

Recent findings from NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse shows a decrease in the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and many illicit drugs over the last five years among American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders – many to their lowest levels since this survey’s inception.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Adolescent Health reports similar findings, citing that tobacco use by adolescents has declined substantially in the last 40 years. And a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes that, from 2002 to 2013, the rate of underage drinking decreased 6.1 percent.

8 | Teen pregnancies and sexual activity are declining.

According to 2014 findings by the Guttmacher Institute, the U.S. teenage pregnancy rate reached its lowest point in more than 30 years, down 51 percent from its peak in 1990. And a 2015 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that teen sexual activity dropped dramatically over the past 25 years. In 2011–2013, 44 percent of female teenagers and 47 percent of male teenagers aged 15–19 had experienced sexual intercourse, declining significantly (by 14 percent for females and 22 percent for males) since 1988.

9 | High school graduation rates reach record high.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the U.S. high school graduation rate has steadily increased for the past four consecutive years, rising to an all-time high in the 2013-14 school year, with 82 percent of teens graduating.

While American parents are doing a good job at parenting, we need to take into account that there’s more at play than a general attitude toward parenting. We can’t discount the various political differences that figure into the parenting equation – those that often set parents up for success. For example, many non-U.S. governments often foot the bill for benefits that Americans need to pay for out of pocket – like childcare – so it’s no wonder other parents around the world sometimes appear to fare better.

“Don’t beat yourself up for failing to achieve perfect work-life balance,” writes Pamela Druckerman in The New York Times. An American journalist and the author of “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” Druckerman points out in the article that “the French have national paid maternity leave, subsidized nannies, excellent state day care and free universal preschool, and yet they blame the government for not helping parents enough. We Americans have none of the above, yet we blame ourselves.”

What can we learn from – and teach – other cultures?

Despite our different approaches, we can still learn a lot of lessons from the way parents in other countries raise their kids.

“We like the idea of children who can speak their own mind, give their own opinions and be their own person. This is a part of being independent,” says Christine Gross-Loh, mother of four and author of “Parenting Without Borders,” in an ABC News interview. “But there’s a whole other piece I think we’ve been neglecting, and that’s the idea of self-reliance and self-responsibility and those are the sorts of traits that I see being fostered in other countries that are not fostered as well by many parents here in the United States.”

Gross-Loh, who traveled the world to research parenting through a global lens, culls the world’s “best practices” for raising kids, including insights from China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the United States.

“I absolutely think American parents are doing a lot of things right,” says Gross-Loh. “I’ve been struck by how much effort we put into raising tolerant and caring kids who have a sense of the world as diverse and multicultural. We read them books that show diverse characters, we talk to them about race and gender and bias and justice. This sets us apart from other countries I’m familiar with where there is more homogeneity and less urgency in putting these issues on the table.

The bottom line is this: There is no one right way to be a good mom or dad, but we can all learn from each other. So relax, American parents. You’re doing just fine.

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Brooklyn based stay-at-home dad Mike Julianelle, also known as Dad and Buried online, shared a brutally honest post on Instagram recently that has gone viral. In it he describes how being a stay-at-home parent is really hard, especially during the summer when the kids need to stay entertained in the long hot days in the city.

The post also goes into something that struck a chord with many stay-at-home parents: not having a choice. Many of the over 500 comments the photo has received touch upon how stressful and draining being the parent at home with the kids all day can be.

The post reads:

"It's day two of my summer as a stay-at-home dad and I've already lost it on my kids.

Actually, I lost it at day 1.5. I'm not cut out for this.

I knew it 6 years ago when I did it for the first time, I knew it a month ago when it was looming again, I knew it yesterday when things were going well, and I definitely knew it today when I yelled at my 8yo and carried him to another room because he wouldn't stop complaining about something he actually wanted to do.

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I don't want to be a stay-at-home parent. I don't want to have to find ways to fill my kids' days all summer. I don't want to plan, I don't want to pack stuff, I don't want to herd them places, I don't want to go places.

I don't have the temperament, I don't have the patience, I don't have the interest.

I also don't have a choice.

Circumstances being what they are, and summer being what it is, someone has to stay home with my kids all day. Mom and Buried has done it for years, and now she's working and I'm not, so I'm back in the saddle. Reluctance (and unsuitability) aside, I have no choice but to get better at it.

They don't need to know how stressed I am, they don't deserve a dad who's grumpy and frustrated before the day has even begun, and most of all, they don't deserve a boring summer.

Summer is sacred. And it's usually Mom and Buried's territory. But it's on me now.

No, we might not be able to send them to camp or take them on fancy trips, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to do. And it's on me to do them. More than that, it's on me to do them with a smile on my face. Or at least without constantly yelling at them.

So far, things aren't going so great. But there's nowhere to go but up!

This is one of the primary challenges of parenting. Not letting your grownup stress impact your kids' childhood innocence. We all have struggles, and sometimes the toll they take is going to manifest itself, often in ways you don't even realize.

I guess the good news is: I do realize it. Which makes it even more crucial that I manage it, and do whatever I can to prevent my kids from catching on.

I've gotta fake it until *they* make it. But what else is new?"

Shout out to this SAHD for his honest, and to all the stay-at-home parents for the hard work they do, all day, everyday.

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The sound of my youngest son's wailing filled the air. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. As his screeches pierced my ears and my eyes rested on his angry face, a thought flashed into my mind: I wonder if I will ever reach a sweet spot in parenting.

I like to imagine that somewhere in my future is a magical age where the daily demands of parenting lessen and I will finally have it (mostly) all figured out. It seems I have been waiting for and wishing for this "easy" time since the first few weeks of motherhood.

When my oldest was a newborn and I was fumbling my way through sleep-deprivation, I just knew as soon as he started sleeping through the night, then motherhood would be so much easier.

When he finally did master sleeping longer stretches, he figured out how to roll over. He would roll one way and get stuck. I would flip him back, and he would be good for about five minutes and then get stuck again. I just knew as soon as he was able to roll back over the other way, then motherhood would be so much easier.

After months of nursing, and then pumping, and then bottle-feeding, I just knew that once he was eating solid foods, motherhood would be so much easier because he would sleep better, and I wouldn't have the enormous mountain of pump parts and bottles to clean each night.

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Then he started to eat solid foods, and meal times were so messy and I quickly grew tired of constantly cleaning his highchair and the floor and the wall. I just knew once he could eat on his own, then motherhood would be so much easier.

I carried him everywhere because he couldn't yet crawl, and my arms and back would ache. I just knew that once he could crawl motherhood would be so much easier.

And then he did start to crawl, and suddenly nothing was off-limits. I just knew once he was older and I wouldn't have to worry about him falling down the stairs or jamming a toy into a light socket, then motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to walk, then run, and I worried about him running away from me in the store, running into a parking lot, or tripping on his wobbly legs and doing a faceplant into the sidewalk. I just knew that when he was older and better able to listen and communicate, motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to talk and protest, and have very strong opinions about everything and the meltdowns began. I just knew as soon as we were done with this age, motherhood would be so much easier.

As my sons have grown, each stage has brought new joys, but also new challenges. Some aspects of parenting have become easier, and others have become harder.

So does this parenting "sweet spot" I have conjured up in my mind even exist?

Do I just have to be patient and it will arrive one day out of the blue when my sons reach a certain age or I gain the perfect amount of parenting wisdom?

I kept thinking about this as my son calmed down and pressed his tired little body into my own. I gazed down onto his tear-streaked cheeks. I brushed the wispy strands of his hair with my fingertips. I paused at that moment to really soak him up as he cuddled on my lap. I let the tension of the previous minutes fade away.

And a new thought entered my mind. "I'm already in a sweet spot, right here and now. I don't need to wait for one."

Parenthood will probably never be "easy." But it is pretty sweet, nonetheless.

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We can hardly believe it's back to school season. Whether it's your little's first day of preschool (😭) or they're entering another grade in elementary school, it's important to get them a backpack they'll love to carry—and one that can haul all of their supplies.

From bags that will last kids for years to fun ones that let their personalities shine through, we've rounded up some of our favorite backpacks that are sure to be theirs as well.

(Pro tip: Choose a few that you love, then let them pick out their favorite!)

1. SoYoung Toddler Backpack, Amazon

backpack for kids

These bags are made from natural linen and exclusively designed for grade school. They're machine washable and feature a chest clip for extra support if they carry home lots of books.

Price: $39.95

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2. Jansport Superbreak Backpack, Rack Room Shoes

best backpacks for kids

The "OG" of backpack brands, Jansport makes durable classic designs that can withstand the wear and tear of the school year. A front panel with a built-in organizer will keep elementary kids and middle schoolers organized, while the padded shoulder straps will keep them comfortable. The best part? The price (and a few super fun patterns)!

Price: $36

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[In partnership with Rack Room Shoes]

3. Mini Kane Printed Canvas, State Bags

best kids backpacks

Every bag is custom-made and hand drawn and it's roomy enough to carry your child through elementary school. This company was founded to help local children in need so for every bag purchased, STATE will support an American child in need in the way they need it most.

Price: $60

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4. Land's End ClassMate Medium Backpack, Land's End

lands end backpacks

This classic bag is great for preschool and elementary. With padded back panels and shoulder straps, it provides optimal comfort and is water-repellent. It has reinforced stitching so it'll hold up just fine if your little tosses it or drags it around. And, we can't resist personalizing it with a monogram so you always know which bag is your kid's.

Price: $23.97

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5. Skip Hop Llama Insulated Toddler Backpack, Target

backpacks for kids

Now, who wouldn't want a llama backpack?! We adore Skip Hop's toddler backpack line—kiddos can pick out their favorite animal, like a unicorn, ladybug, or bee. They're ideal for preschool, where children won't bring a ton of folders or binders home. The insulated front pouch is the perfect spot to store snacks.

Price: $19.99

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6. Herschel Supply Co. Survey Kids Backpack, Amazon

best backpacks

Perfectly sized for kids aged 3 to 4, this backpack comes in 29 color options, allowing your little full creativity. The front features magnetic strap closures, but has a hidden zippered storage sleeve for important items.

Price: $23.30

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7. Wildkin 12 Inch Backpack, Amazon

backpacks for kids

These backpacks offer so many design options and the 12 inch one is ideal for daycare through preschool. It has an insulated front pocket big enough to store lunch or snacks for the day—and can be embroidered so your little doesn't get confused about which bag is theirs.

Price: $17.99

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8. Adidas Girls Court Lite II Backpack, Rack Room Shoes

girls backpacks

You may wish he still wanted a backpack with a truck or dinosaur pattern, but by first grade your babies are going to be all about the "big kid" sports brand. And trust us when we say Adidas is king.

Price: $35

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[In partnership with Rack Room Shoes]

9. Mackenzie Critter Unicorn Backpack, Pottery Barn Kids

best kids backpack

When you think of Pottery Barn Kids, you likely picture home decor and nursery furniture. But, they have some incredibly durable and functional backpacks for kids. The critter collection comes in two sizes (we recommend the small for preschool and large for kindergarten and beyond) and a variety of designs so kids can have fun showing off their style. Bonus: They have amazing personalization options!

Price: $29.50-$64.50

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10. Jansport Big Student Backpack, Rack Room Shoes

best kids backpack

This backpack is pretty much everyone's daughter personified, which means she's going to totally *heart* the hilarious cupcake and sprinkles pattern (it will be like her birthday every day of the year!). We love that there's not one but two main compartments and not one but two front zippered pockets. Oh, and the side mesh pocket that is oh-so-perfect for water bottles.

Price: $47.99

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[In partnership with Rack Room Shoes]

11. Roxy Morning Light Small Backpack, Roxy

best backpacks

For the kid who's heading into big kid school, this nylon covered bag is big enough for folders, lunch boxes and even a change of clothes. It has adjustable padded shoulder straps and a back panel to ensure comfort.

Price: $27.99

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12. Fortnite Multiplier Backpack, Rack Room Shoes

fortnite backpack

If Fortnite hasn't hit your household, well, get ready! This one is sure to make your kiddo happy and ensure they're dancing the whole way to school.

Price: $35

SHOP

[In partnership with Rack Room Shoes]

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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They say necessity is the mother of invention, and when temperatures soar as high as they are this summer, it's necessary that we get little ones out of the backseat as soon as possible.

But parents are only human, and as much as we think we could never forget our babies in the car, it does happen. Research suggests high temperatures don't help, as heat stress can impact our cognitive function.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 2018 was the worst year in history for kids being left in hot cars. The NSC, other safety advocacy organizations and lawmakers are encouraging auto makers to embrace technology to create backseat alert systems in new vehicles, but such systems aren't standard yet.

Luckily, there are several innovative car seat apps and products parents can use to remind them when there's a little one in the backseatand you might already have one of them installed.

Here are 5 car seat apps that lessen the risk of leaving little ones behind:

1. Waze

Waze

If you use Waze to help you beat traffic, you can set it up to remind you to empty the backseat when you reach your destination. Simply turn on the "Child Reminder" feature in your settings to start getting the notifications. It even allows you to add a custom message, so you can write a sweet note about your baby.

2. Kars 4 Kids Safety App

Kars 4 Kids

If you're not a Waze fan but are an Android user, you can try the Kars 4 Kids Safety App on Google Play. It connects to your car's Bluetooth so that when you (and your phone) leave the car, an alarm goes off. You can add your child's photo to fully customize your reminder.

3. The Backseat App

The Backseat App is available on iPhones and Android, and because it doesn't rely on Bluetooth, it's useful to parents who are driving vehicles that don't have that technology on board.

Developed by an Arizona father, this app can be used not only in the U.S., but in Australia, Canada, France, Mexico, New Zealand and the U.K. Using GPS, it reminds the driver to check the backseat when the car is parked, and if the driver doesn't turn off the alerts to their phone, the app sends a messages to three pre-determined contacts. The message will let them know that there's a possibility that a child's been left in a hot car via email and text message and send the location of your vehicle, along with your car's identifying characteristics.

4. Built-in Car Seat Alarms

Cybex

Car seat manufacturers, like Evenflo and Cybex, offer built in alarm functions thanks to innovative chest clips that don't just protect kids in the event of an accident, but also if they're accidentally left in the vehicle.

Motherly loves the Cybex Sirona M SensorSafe Convertible Car Seat, as it's "the smartest convertible car seat we've ever tried." The chest clip that alerts parents when: the car is too hot (or cold), if the child has been in the car seat longer than recommended, if they've managed to unclip it while the car is moving, or if a child is left behind in the backseat—for example, if the car is turned off or the driver's cell phone has left the vehicle, but the kid is still clipped in. If the driver doesn't respond to an alert about a child left behind, emergency contacts are alerted.

5. Bee-Alert Child Auto Alarm

Amazon

If you've already got a car seat and aren't keen on apps (or if your child has caregivers who aren't) the Bee-Safe Child Auto Alarm is a low-cost car reminder system ($29.99 on Amazon) that alerts drivers to the possibility of children both in the back seat and behind the vehicle. If your kiddo rides with someone who does not use a smartphone, this innovative alarm is a good bet.

No matter what you choose, having back up while driving the kids around in the heat is a a cool invention. And these innovative apps and products are likely just the beginning of a wave of designs dedicated to helping parents remember who is in the backseat.

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According to Arizona State University associate professor of psychology Gene Brewer, "memory failures are remarkably powerful, and they happen to everyone." He continues, "there is no difference between gender, class, personality, race or other traits. Functionally, there isn't much of a difference between forgetting your keys and forgetting your child in the car."

Parents shouldn't feel guilty about being human, but if there are apps and products that can help reduce the risk, they're worth checking out.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

[A version of this post was originally published July 6, 2018. It has been updated.]

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