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On The Road Again - Going by Car with Children

Situation: We’re about to take a long car trip. If history repeats itself, the kids will fight, bicker and whine, and I’ll be the one asking, “Are we there yet?”

Think about it: If history repeats itself, it will be because you didn’t change anything that happened the first time around. If you want to change something, you need to analyze what went wrong and create a plan for future success.


Solution #1: Kids have lots of energy, and find it difficult to sit still while strapped in the back seat of a car for hours on end. Inevitably, they become bored, and boredom leads to misbehavior. Prevent boredom by using gallon-sized plastic bags or boxes to create activity packs. The party aisle of your favorite toy store has lots of inexpensive ideas, such as: magnetic checkers, tiny plastic people and animals, Silly Putty™, sticker books, coloring books and crayons, simple crafts, playing cards, comic books, View-masters™, Etch-a-sketches™ , and miniature travel games. CDs or DVDs and ear phones with music and children’s stories are great for long trips. To keep things organized, allow only one bag per child at a time. You can use the bags on your return trip and as rainy-day activities during your stay.

Solution #2: Plan to stop often for the kids to use the bathroom and stretch their legs. Giving them these opportunities for movement will keep them much happier in between stops. Use a seat rotation system logged on an index card, and have children switch seats each time you stop. Rotation provides a change in view and environment.

Solution #3: Don’t over pack the car. Kids who are squashed between bags and packages tend to get grumpy.

Solution #4: Let children know in advance what the travel plans are – how long the journey will take, expected time of arrival, etc. Give the kids a map, colored pencils and a compass so they can follow and record the journey. Plot the starting point and ending point. Provide a calculator and paper, so when they ask, “How long ‘til we get there?” you can teach them how to figure it out themselves!

Solution #5:
Have a supply of ‘snack bags’ in the car. Snacks serve multiple purposes. They keep the kids’ blood-sugar levels even, the search for just the right snack is an entertaining activity and kids who are chewing will tend to argue less frequently. Make sure most of the snacks are low-sugar and healthy, such as pretzels, dry cereal, popcorn or crackers. Include juice drinks and water bottles. (If you have young children, be careful to avoid any snack that is a choking hazard.)

Solution #6:
Car travel makes many children sleepy. Even older children enjoy a pillow and blanket. Dress the kids in comfortable clothes and allow them to remove their jackets and shoes – cozy kids are happier kids!


Elizabeth is the author of Kid Cooperation and Perfect Parenting. For more information, visit (Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999.)

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