Driving long distances with young children can be exasperating, from “Are we there yet?”, to the bickering and fighting among siblings. I came up with a simple yet effective way to minimize behavior problems one summer while planning a trip from Oklahoma to Florida.
How to manage behavior and boredom with kids while traveling
Several weeks beforehand, I purchased numerous inexpensive, age appropriate gifts that would provide entertainment and/or engage the children while on our trip.
We would wrap each gift individually in different colored paper for each child and placed in a special bag.
If the children traveled well during the day, they received a reward that evening at the hotel where they selected one item from their bag. If it was an extremely long day of driving you might give a gift halfway through as a break and again that evening ! Just make sure you have enough gifts for each night of travel, including the return trip.
Back in the 80s and 90s when we started doing this with our kids, it would just be really small items. Gifts included simple things like a box of crayons and coloring book, bubbles, card games, stickers, a special snack/treat, etc.. They could be used to entertain in moments when boredom was sure to set in later.
When bickering or complaining started I simply reminded them of the gifts in the box. The suspense of seeing packages of varying sizes, all wrapped up was usually enough to correct the behavior. Of course, if not, then the consequence was no surprise.
Even my nine year old (at the time… he’s now in his 30s) enjoyed unwrapping a present each evening. It was perhaps a new game that we could play that evening, a puzzle or maze book that he could work on in the car the next day, a new ball, Frisbee, etc.
So think about how little gifts could supplement the trip whether educationally or just for fun. My daughter (Kara) said remembers most getting a joint gift with her brother that was a velcro ball and mitt set. We used it at a park when we stretched our legs.
All of the gifts were inexpensive and not something I would find on their Christmas wish list. However, they were effective in minimizing behavior while at the sometime enhanced our time together engaging as a family. And it’s something my kids have continued to do for their own children. It makes vacation not just the destination but also the travel and process of getting to the destination. A win-win for everyone!
I have also been known to bring the kitchen timer along on road trips.
When we needed a few minutes of quiet, we would set the timer up on the dash. It was usually quite calming for an extended period. With older children we would even make a game of it to see who could go the longest without talking.
What ideas do you have to handle long car rides with your children?
Teresa is Kara’s own mother! Professionally, she is a retired National Board Certified Elementary Physical Education Teacher. She is now the grandma to 5 beautiful babies and is the planner and coordinator of games and activities for the toddlers, preschoolers, and young kids at her church.