Summer is coming and you and your family will inevitably be spending more time in the car. If the very thought of this makes you carsick, do not fear – there is hope around the corner. There are some things you can do to bring peace to your war-torn backseat.
- Provide entertainment. Keep a bucket of books and hand-held games readily available for your kids. Rotate the books and games periodically to maintain their interest. If fighting over the toys and books is an issue, invest in over-the-seat organizers and “assign” each child the books and games he or she will have for the duration of the ride.
- Pull over. If the bickering and fighting does not cease in response to a calm declaration such as, “That’s enough,” put your turn signal on, find a safe place to stop and turn the car off. You don’t even need to say anything. Simply wait in silence (even if they are not). Pull out a nail file and give yourself a manicure until it is quiet and you begin to hear some apologies. Before you start on your way again, remind them that the time spent on the side of the road will come out of their free time (or whatever enjoyable activity was next on the day’s itinerary).
- Remove them from the car. If simply pulling over doesn’t help, you may need to remove them completely. Find a dead end street or an empty parking lot and have them sit on a curb in silence. Sit in between them with a book or magazine in hand. Again, remind them that they will have to pay you back for the time they took from you. They can “replace” this time by doing some chores for you once you get home or by going to bed early.
- Have car ride practice at home in the living room. Replace free time with some practice time. Set up chairs in the living room to simulate your car or minivan. Use it as a time to impress upon them qualities of a good passenger. Play a game of “what if.” Ask them things like, “What if I hear a scream and take my eyes off the road for a moment? What could happen?” List the many tasks that a driver must do in order to get from point A to point B safely. Help them to understand the amount of concentration that goes into driving a car. [By the way, this might be a good time for you to practice driving without your cell phone in one hand and cappuccino in the other. After all, we want to practice what we preach.]
- Stay home. In extreme situations, the safest solution might be to stay home. The next time your child asks to go somewhere, simply say, “No. I can’t take you there. I can’t risk driving in unsafe conditions. We’ll try again another time.” If you absolutely need to go somewhere, drop one child off at a neighbor’s house (preferably an elderly one with lots of cats) and take the other one with you. Stipulate that the car ride must be in silence.
And don’t forget: as is true with any behavior you want to see more of, make sure to point out any shred of improvement you see in their backseat etiquette, no matter how small. With a little creativity, consistency, encouragement and resolve, you can train your children to ride quietly and happily in the car. May you enjoy the open road with the wind in your hair and peace in your back seat.