Kids are great! But when they’re stuck in the back seat of a car for a long time, they’re liable to drive any parent mad. Here are 10 tips to help you avoid squabbles and whining.
Have your kids participate in trip planning
Set clear rules
Have your children keep a travel diary
Make frequent stops
Plan for illness
Reward your kids
Avoid traffic jams
With today’s smart phones and GPS systems, road maps practically seem obsolete. Why not go old school and involve your kids (depending on their age, of course) in deciding what route to take by using a road map? A quick Google search before you leave will help you identify landmarks along the way. Next, prepare a quiz on the places you’ll be driving through (e.g. secondary roads, city names on road signs) and establish a points system that can lead to prizes. This small game could prove to be very rewarding and help your kids learn how to read a map.
All kids do better with clear boundaries. In fact, boundaries even make them feel secure. With this in mind, before hitting the road, establish a code of conduct you know your children will be able to live up to. You can even involve them in the process, to make them feel more accountable. For example, if your children know that they’ll be spending a certain number of hours in the car, but that there will be a stop for lunch at noon and that they’ll each get to play their choice of music for an hour, things should go more smoothly. Of course, the rules you set will vary depending on the age of your children, but clearly-defined boundaries are a must.
Before leaving, ask your children to keep a travel diary recounting the highlights of your trip. Invite them to take notes and to put down on paper the things they do and see on your trip, such as the states or provinces and cities or regions you end up visiting. Depending on your children’s age, you could also suggest that they take as many pictures and gather as much information as possible to create a PowerPoint presentation that they could later use for school or show other family members. Most importantly, express interest in their work. This will motivate them, keep them busy and give them lifelong memories.
Naturally, car games are a must when it comes to keeping your kids occupied. Try to avoid overly noisy games or games you know will inevitably lead to arguments. Pick toys that will keep your children busy the longest or that will keep them calm and focused. Although DVDs and video games can do wonders in this respect, remember that the goal isn’t to keep them glued to a screen all day either. You can also take turns sitting in the back seat with your children, thereby allowing you to play with one of them while the other gets to enjoy the privilege of sitting up front (age-permitting).
Kids generally have a hard time going long stretches in a car. This is normal—they need to move! As such, plan to stop often, ideally near a park or green space. Throw a couple of balls or a Frisbee in the trunk so your kids can play and burn off some energy. When you’re on the road, if one of your children sees a sign for an amusement park or a landmark that interests them, why not make a small detour and stop long enough to take a few pictures before hitting the road again? Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous and keep an eye open for signs of fatigue in your children. Do what you need to do to ensure such signs of fatigue don’t become an issue.
Children tend to complain more when you force them to do things. During your trip, why not ask them to plan some of the stops you’ll be making or maybe even a visit to such-and-such place? Provide them with travel pamphlets and tourism magazines that will help them in their choices. By using the road map they will have learned to read, they will be able to plan which route to take to get there. The more your children feel that they are part of the decision-making process when it comes to your trip, the more likely they are to behave on the trip. The idea here is not to give them full latitude, but to let them be active participants. After all, this is a family vacation, right?
Travelling is not usually good for your waistline, hence the importance of properly planning your meals. Children who are fed will be calmer during the drive. Because few restaurants serve healthy food, it is essential to plan accordingly by having a cooler full of healthy snacks. Feel free to stop at a market along the way to buy food that is healthier than potato chips or sweets and that your children will be able to eat in the car. A nice piece of fruit, a few slices of cheese and some good juice will tie your kids over until the next meal stop.
One out of five children suffers carsickness, and all kids can begin to feel sick at some point on long car rides. You know your kids well, but if this is your first road trip with them, you could be in for a surprise or two. Bring along a small medical kit including anti-nauseant or headache medication. Eating healthy food, as opposed to greasy food or sweets, will help keep your children’s tummies settled on the road. Playing video games or reading after a meal might also not be wise while you’re on the road. Plan accordingly and be prepared to make stops so that your little ones can get some fresh air.
The idea here is not to give in to blackmail or give too much power to your kids, but rewarding good behaviour goes a lot further than punishing poor behaviour. This could involve stopping for an ice cream cone in the late afternoon if your children have behaved themselves all day. Yes, you can also take away privileges if they’ve been little monsters, but keep in mind that you are on vacation and you want to have a good time. Focus on positive reinforcement.
Before leaving, do some research on the major cities you’ll be driving through. Find out which highways are prone to rush-hour traffic – or get a GPS that provides live traffic updates – and try to avoid the more congested ones, especially late in the day. If it’s been a long day of driving with the kids, there’s no point in making it even longer when you’re all tired.