What are your strategies for keeping the peace among your kids when driving?
Whether going on a long road trip or taking a short drive to a local store, having multiple children in the vehicle can lead to bickering among them. In what ways have you been effective in either preventing or resolving this type of driving (and parenting) challenge?
When you're trying to get kids from school, to practice, to the grocery store for last minute dinner ingredients, the last thing you want to deal with is a screaming toddler and a 7 yr. old complaining that their older brother won't stop staring at them. It's easy to become frustrated by your children while driving. The good news is that there are alternatives to stopping the car and threatening to make everyone walk!!
The most important thing you can do to stop inappropriate behavior while driving in the car with your children is to pre-teach to them what you expect them to act like. Explain specific behaviors that they are and are not allowed to do. Also explain what the consequences will be if they don’t follow instructions. Be ready to follow through with those consequences if necessary. Don’t forget to give positive praise to your kids when they do act appropriately in the car.
Along with giving your kids positive praise it’s a great idea to bring along things in the car that will keep them busy such as snacks, books and games. Let each of your children pick out a specific book or treat that is special to them.
We currently only have one child, but when we travel with her friends in the car, we play verbal games to keep the kids entertained (and distracted from fighting with one another over toys).
Our daughter's favorite game is "Guess the Animal," in which we give clues about the animal, and she and her friends have to guess what animal we're thinking of. For instance, one person says, "I'm thinking of an animal that is brown, lives in trees and whose name starts with an 'm'." (Answer=monkey) This game can keep our daughter and pals occupied for a long time, but when they do get bored, we switch it up by guessing in the following categories:
>Someone we all know
>A famous person
>A type of food
>A type of car, etc.
We also play a word riddle game in which we play with the names of countries. For instance: "I'm thinking of a country that you eat for Thanksgiving." (Answer: Turkey). I particularly like this game because it usually leads to mini-geography lessons (or follow-up action items when we get home, like finding the countries we talked about on our world map).
We also use children's music CDs in the car and sing along (you can't bicker if you're busy singing!). And on long road trips, we make lots of stops to let the kids run around and play.
In general: Never reward misbehavior with anger and frustration. Kids love emotion and some kids live for the "power" that anger responses provide them. So, do your best to respond calmly. Love and Logic (a well known parenting program) teaches us to always respond with an empathetic statement before delivering consequences. Examples of empathy are: "What a bummer" or "How sad."
For long trips: Having things to entertain the kids handy like coloring books, videos, game boys, car games, etc. are essential. Audio books are great, too. Having special little treats to give out for good behavior is also essential. Notice when your kids are getting along well and praise them. Good behavior should be noticed over "bad" behavior at a ratio of 10 to 1. Unfortunately, most of us notice the bad behavior and take the good behavior for granted. Realize that long road trips with young children are bound to be frustrating so bring along an extra dose of patience. And don't set your kids up to fail. Make frequent stops, try to see fun things along the way- animal farms, picnics, etc. Gone are the days of powering through a 15 hour road trip with no stops.
For short trips: First, it depends on whether you are going somewhere that the kids want to go or somewhere you want to go (and they don't). If it's a chronic problem, set the expectations at the beginning of the trip. Effective parents set the limit once and follow through with loving actions rather than anger, frustration, ranting and raving.
If it's somewhere they want to go, you can pull over to the side of the road and calmly say: "Hey guys, all this bickering is hurting my ears. I'm happy to take you to the park as long as you are calm and sweet in the car." Then start driving. If they start up again, simply turn around and drive home. When they are upset with you about going home, don't get mad or lecture or say "I told you so." Reply with empathy: "Oh I know it's such a bummer. I was looking forward to the park, too, but all that bickering hurt my ears. Maybe we can try again tomorrow." And leave it at that. When we let empathy and consequences do the teaching rather than nagging, yelling and punishing, kids learn the lesson and like us alot better in the long run!
If it's somewhere that you want to go (and they don't), then there are some options:
1. Charge them by the minute to listen to the bickering. I charge our kids (ages 8 and 10) 25 cents each. I say: "Would you guys like to stop fighting or pay me to listen to it?" They usually quiet down quickly and if not, I earn a latte! :-)
2. Say: "If you are calm and quiet, we'll listen to your music. If you keep on fighting, then we'll listen to my music. Which do you prefer?" And of course, I pick music they don't like. They catch on very quickly...
3. Say: "Oh bummer. All of this bickering is draining my energy. I'm not sure what to do about it right now. But try not to worry about it." And then carry on as best you can. When you get home, go on a little mini-strike. Sit down on the couch with a good book and say, "Oh guys, this is such a bummer. My energy was so drained with all of that bickering in the car that I need to rest." Of course this means that you are unavailable to drive them anywhere or do anything for them for the next hour or two because you are "resting." Of course this one depends on the age of your kids- obviously with little ones you'll need to take care of them so other options would be better but with older kids who can take care of themselves, this is very effective.
These ideas are based on Love and Logic- a well-known parenting program that has been used in schools and homes around the world for over 30 years. www.loveandlogic.com
Parent Coach Lisa is a Love and Logic author, public speaker and parent coach. She is the co-author (with Foster Cline MD) of the book "Parenting Children with Health Issues." www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com