With their little ones strapped to the backs of the seats, parents of children aged 0-3 have been known to keep their children in their cars at home for extended periods of time.
The fact that they are doing so for a good reason, such as staying warm, and not just for the comfort of their child, has led to a backlash among parents, with many questioning the necessity of keeping their children with them at all times.
According to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Child Health and Development, a quarter of children in Australia are staying at home at any given time, compared to 17 per cent in 2011.
Many parents of young children are concerned that this might make them less responsible for their childrens wellbeing and that it may prevent them from staying safe at home.
“It is not just the parents who are being negligent,” said Dr Sarah Cavanagh, who works in child and adolescent mental health at the University of Western Sydney.
“Children who stay at home tend to be more likely to have problems with peer relationships, social isolation, and are less likely to feel comfortable around peers or at school.”
“Parents need to be aware of what they are putting their children at risk of.
If you have to be at home all the time, it can make it very difficult to be responsible for your child.”
The data shows that just under a quarter (24 per cent) of children have had a parent or guardian leave them at home to care for them, compared with 21 per cent of children who stay with a family member.
Dr Cavanag said while parents need to think carefully about their children’s needs, it was also important for the parents to be mindful of how much their children spend time with their parent.
While this was a factor in why parents of older children often stay home at times, it may also explain why parents are more likely than younger children to be putting their child at risk.
For example, children of older age are more prone to develop behaviour problems.
In the latest survey of the Australian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there was a higher proportion of older parents who were concerned about the wellbeing of their children.
A further 16 per cent said they felt more comfortable being at home when their children were younger, while 12 per cent had a higher level of concern about their child’s wellbeing.
Parents may also find it easier to deal with the fact that their children are not at home with them for longer periods of times, because they are more focused on their children or are busy working.
If they are busy with other things, they may miss out on time with them.
As a result, many parents may end up keeping their young children at home, and doing so while taking on childcare responsibilities.
This may leave them in a worse situation than if they had not.
However, Dr Cavanaga said there were ways parents could improve their situation.
“A good way to help is to make sure that the parent who is caring for the child has the flexibility to be home when the child is sleeping,” she said.
Other factors that may be contributing to parents staying at the home include having children in the same room as them, and staying with the parent when they are at work, or when they take on a job, which increases the need for the parent to be with their child all the way through a long day at work.
It is important to remember that not all parents have the same amount of responsibility for their child.
For example, there are many who have a job that requires them to stay home and take care of children, and then have a break for lunch and then go back to work.
“They have a lot of flexibility in that they can come home when they have to, they can do other things during the day, and they can also work later in the day,” Dr Cavenagh said.
“It is very important that parents are aware of these issues, so that they don’t end up in the position where they are spending more time with a child than they would like to.”
Dr Sarah Cavannagh is a clinical child psychologist and an associate professor of clinical child and family psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health at the Australian National University.
She is the author of the book, The Child: From Baby to Adolescent: The Science of Child Development.