Bickering, whining, and refusing to wear a seatbelt are common behaviors that children struggle with during car rides. These behaviors can be stressful for parents, especially during longer trips. It can be difficult to address behaviors while driving and some parents may find themselves overlooking problem behaviors or avoiding taking their child on car trips altogether. With some practice and a bit of planning, you can help make traveling less stressful and more enjoyable for the whole family. Here are some tips on teaching your child how to behave in the car, and what to do when they don’t:
Practice Riding in the Car
Like any new skill, learning to ride in the car can take time. You can start by scheduling practice trips, around 5-10 minutes, during a time when you are not in a rush. As your child progresses and learns how to behave in the car, you can start adding more time.
Prepare for the Trip
First, try to maintain your child’s routine when scheduling a trip. You can also consider packing your bags and loading the vehicle the day before you leave. It may take some extra time and work, but this can help to reduce stress going into the drive. Lastly, talk to your child about the trip so they know what to expect. Tell them where you are going, how long it will take, and answer any questions they may have about the trip.
Decide on the Rules
Decide on a few simple rules for the car ride and review them with your child before the trip. Think of rules that tell your child what to do, rather than what not to do.
Plan Interesting Activities
Planning fun, interesting activities can go a long way towards preventing problem behaviors in the car. Tablets can be useful, but non-electronic activities should also be prepared in case you lose signal or chargers stop working. Consider what age-appropriate activities you can bring on the trip. Ideas include coloring books and crayons, word search activities, books to read, and magnetic board games.
Playing games as a family is a fun road trip tradition. Someone can pick a color, and whoever finds the most cars in that color wins. Hunt for license plates from all 50 states, together. Create a scavenger hunt list before the trip and have everyone help find the items.
Use Rewards for Good Behavior
Decide how you would like to reward your child for following the rules. Before the trip, explain to your child clearly how they can earn the reward, then follow through on presenting it. Remember, rewards do not have to be big or expensive!
Decide on Consequences for Not Following the Rules
Decide ahead of time how you want to manage problem behaviors and explain to your child what will happen if they break the rules. Here are some tips on managing problem behaviors during the car ride:
If your child breaks a rule, respond immediately by telling them what to stop doing and what you want them to do instead.
If your child continues to break the rules, you can use quiet time. This means your child must be quiet for two minutes. You can choose to continue driving or pull over, but make sure that your child does not receive any attention from you or anyone else in the car. Once your child has been quiet for two minutes, you can resume driving and praise them for following the rules.
For everyone’s safety, it is important for your child to stay buckled in their seat belt or car seat. If your child unbuckles, you should pull over as soon as it is safe to do so.
Review the Trip
Finally, when you reach your destination, talk to your child about their behavior on the trip. Give them specific praise for things they did well and follow through with the reward you agreed on before the trip. If your child did not follow the rules, you can calmly remind them which rule they forgot and make that a goal for the next car trip.
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