When my adult children are together in the back seat of our car they start bickering.
“She’s putting her elbow on my side.” “Make him stop looking at me.” Then they burst out laughing and we, their parents join them.
But when they were kids it wasn’t a joke, it was an annoyance. Think about it from their point of view. Here you have two energetic kids stuck together in a tin box.
These are kids who often can’t coexist in a whole house, let alone this space. It doesn’t help that sometimes they are not even excited about the destination. Think about it. They are stuck in this little space and at the end of the trip they get to go grocery shopping. Whoopee!
What’s a parent to do? First, create the rules and talk to the kids about what you expect.
You are going to spend a fair bit of time in the car, so it makes sense to plan for your excursions. Make sure the kids get some exercise before you belt them in.
One clear rule can be that you cannot comfortably drive when you are being distracted by bickering. Make sure the kids are clear on this rule. Then when the bickering starts, pull over to the side of the road and take out a book and read (or pretend to read).
When they ask what’s going on, simply announce: “As I have told you, I can’t drive with the fighting going on. Let me know when it’s over.”
Another option is to turn around and go home. Head for a popular place like the local playground and if a fight breaks out, refuse to continue the trip.
The kids will be angry with you, but they will also learn that you mean what you say.
Boredom is another trigger for bickering. Keep books, travel games or small toys in the car. Or you can invite the kids to bring something with them when you are heading out. Snacks are also a great distraction. Kids who are eating are more likely to stay calm and happy.
This is also a great time to talk to your kids. With older kids, ask thought-provoking questions about events that are going on in the community or even in the world. You might also play some guessing games. Pretty soon the kids are actually having fun in the back seat.
What about longer trips? In our family when we were taking a long trip, we had some favourite comedy routines that we played toward the end of day when we were all simply keen to arrive at the evening destination.
We also found that regular exercise times were helpful. We usually had a picnic lunch, so the kids could run around and play at the same time as they had food.
Many of these strategies are also successful when there’s only one child in the car. The difference is they bicker with you. With some planning, travelling with kids in the back seat can actually be fun.
Kathy Lynn is the author of Vive la Différence, Who’s In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.