The Travel Industry Association reports we usually take eight to ten car trips with the kids this summer. Each trek is bound to be a fun family memory, right? Well, not always. Most parents’ car trip recollections are antsy kids repeatedly asking: “Aren’t we there yet?” Luckily with a little preparation you can reduce the kid squabbles and boost the “family fun factor.”
This week the Today show asked me to share ways to stay sane on those kid road trips. So here are a few parenting secrets for the six most likely road trip problems and simple ways to solve them so everyone–parents included—has fun and safe travels.
1. Boredom: “There’s nothing to do!”
The first step is “Be Prepared.” Pack the car things with mess-proof and spill-proof items that kids can do to entertain themselves so you don’t always have to be Mary Poppins.
* Cookie sheets with rims for lap desks to draw or play with magnetic letters and shapes; reusable sticker-books, etch-a-sketches, and car bingo boards
* Listen as a family to Charlotte’s Web and Lord of the Rings checked out of the library (or purchase individual cassette players and earphones so they can listen on their own. Do set a “limit rule” we must drive three hours before viewing or see only a certain number per day so kids aren’t watching 24/7.
* Hang a shoe pocket organizer from the neck rest for backseat passenger to store toys. Each child can also store their favorite things like stuffed animals, toys, MP3 players or toys in personal backpack so you’re not always reaching and helping.
2. Discipline: “Kevin hit me!”
Sitting kids in close proximity for several hours is bound to mean trouble. Research finds that 3 to 7 year old siblings squabble about 3.5 times every hour and six times per hour for 2 to 4 year old–and that’s in your house! Your best secret is to stay on the offense and anticipate bickering so you can head off World War III.
* Set clear rules for the car before starting on your trip. “No shouting, seat belts must be fastened and keep your hands to yourself” are critical for sanity and safety.
* A mini ice chest or box set between two kids creates a boundary in closed quarters and makes a great drink holder as well as drawing space.
* The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests you stop at least every two hours for about fifteen minutes. Your kids need potty breaks and the opportunity to run off that pent-up energy. Eating at a park instead of a restaurant allows kids more outdoor time. They’ll also be more likely to nap once back in the car.
* Try to check into a hotel with a pool. Swimming not only cools kids off but also wears them down so they sleep better at night. Well-rested kids make better travelers.
* When all else fails, pull over to the side of the road (after glancing in the rear-view mirror) and stop until kids stop bickering. They’ll get the picture.
3. Family Memories: “But you said we’d have fun!”
Involve the kids before you start the trip so each child can think about the one thing they would like to do or collect on the trip. A few ideas each child could do include:
* Get out the travel guide and Atlas so that each child can mark key places they want to stop along the way. You can also ask an older child to read up on a certain historical site and guide the others about the location when you arrive.
* Encourage kids to save their own road trip memories with a journal to write, draw or dictate daily happenings, a disposal camera (to photograph favorite memories, or a small scrapbook to save special no-cost findings along the way such as feathers, pressed wild-flowers, ticket stubs, city brochures,
* Give each kid inexpensive compass and teach them how to read it and plot your course in a small notebook.
4. Antsy: “Aren’t we there yet?”
Long driving stretches are tough on kids and drivers. Your best secret to fight the “aren’t we there yet?” battle cry is to use the scouting motto: “Be Prepared.” Here’s how:
* Make a list of songs to sing “Wheels on the Bus”, “The Ants Go Marching…” or purchase one great CD of camp songs for the whole family to sing along.
* Print off a list of great family car games from the Internet to play such as: Bingo, I Spy, the License Plate Game, 20 Questions.
* Bring along a few fun joke book for your family to learn and laugh with.
* Teach your teen to drive (if he has a permit) on those long safe stretches
* Give out pre-purchased inexpensive treats (such as mini play-doh containers, notepads, colored pencils, stickers, fruit roll ups, gum) at strategic moments. Just store them in a secret place and say “Surprise!” just at those needed moments. Nothing’s wrong with bribery when sanity (yours) and safety (everyone’s) are at stake.
5. Parental angst! “What was I thinking!##@!?”
Remember that your passengers are children so don’t forget to bring patience and a bottle of aspirin (for yourself anyway). Also, keep your expectations low, and then anything else will be a pleasant bonus. And if all else fails, travel at night or very early in the morning alternating drivers. Next year the kids will be a year older and things just may be easier.
P.S.: Don’t forget to have fun! You are making a memory!