Long car trips can be difficult on kids. Let’s face it; they can be extra tough on adults if the kids get bored. How do you make sure your kids are ready for the trip and your car is ready for your kids? Here are some ideas for covering all the bases.
Make the Car an Extension of Home. Keep it neat and organized, but don’t sacrifice amenities. Lot’s of cup holders and handy storage areas in the car will give the kids a measure of control over their environment. The more control they have, the more contented they will be.
Pack in Pieces. Think ahead to what the kids will need. Group items in individual containers such as a small cooler for drinks, a bag for snacks, a shoe box of DVD’s, and a backpack for books. It is great to have a vehicle with enough interior space to keep all this stuff within your children’s reach. However, consider giving them access to only a few packs at a time. You can switch them out at rest stops. This will prevent attacks of short attention spans that lead to complaining and restlessness.
Focus on Flicks. Many family cars are available with integrated DVD players. This is a great advantage on long trips. However, you should take charge of the Now Playing’ list. Pick out only a few feature-length films to hold their interest at least until you clear the next state line. If possible, pack movies that appeal to everyone. To take the experience up a notch, have a contest. Let the winner choose the movie. The contest could be answering math questions, spotting the first green VW Beetle, or the parental favorite “quiet game.”
Act and Interact. In her book Taking Back Childhood, noted child psychologist and author Nancy Carlsson-Paige admonishes parents to cut back on violent movies and games and promote open-ended play. So watch one movie (chosen carefully for content), then turn off the DVD player. Dr. Carlsson-Paige points out that children need opportunities to express themselves creatively in order to build mental abilities, strengthen emotional connections, and deal with issues they encounter that may confuse or disturb them. Here is where parents get to let their kids run wild while they are strapped safely into their car seats. Here is where you get to really connect with your kids while helping them develop appropriately and have fun.
In order to accomplish all these goals simultaneously, you only have to do one thing talk. More than anything else, this is the critical element of a low-stress car trip. Talk about school. Talk about extracurricular activities. Make up a new game. My favorite is ’20 Questions.’ There is creativity and mental challenge for all participants in that game.
Compose silly poems. Talk about the birds and the bees. Dads, connect with the kids on sports. Moms, ask those questions you have been dying to ask about the new kid at school. Be creative. If you are creative, the kids will be, too. They will learn by your example. They will express themselves and explore their psychological environment. They will find joy in the journey, and they will grow closer to you. All in the back seat of the family car.