Once the relief of knowing you don’t have to spend a bundle on airfare and deal with screaming kids on a plane passes, the reality of venturing out on a road trip takes hold. You are about to be trapped inside a car with multiple children bound to do what they do best from fighting to whining.
The first thing is not to lose hope and stay determined. With the right strategy you can have that cozy, romantic road trip with your family where everyone gets along (most of the time) and has fun. Here’s your game plan.
Tell Them What You Expect
Just because you fantasize about a quiet and peaceful road trip doesn’t mean your kids know that. To them, a fun road trip may actually mean antagonizing their little brother or openly complaining they need junk food ASAP.
Tell your kids from the get-go in a positive and optimistic tone of voice that you expect the car trip to be enjoyable where people respect each other. Break that down and explain respecting each other means keeping their hands to themselves, asking for things nicely and exercising some empathy and thinking about how the other person feels. Go over this peace plan several times, including the night before and morning of your trip. You’ll be surprised that hearing your expectations can actually improve the outcome of your road trip.
Curate Their Fun
Don’t assume your kids will be content with a tablet loaded with shows and games and a pad to doodle on. Kids get bored even when surrounded by contraband like media, snacks and toys.
Take a moment to think about what really delights your kids. A box filled with nuts, dried fruit, hidden chocolate and a toy in a goodie bag prove to be amazing boredom busters. A bunch of loot from the Dollar Store can also entertain kids as they explore their new reserve and brainstorm ways to play with them in the car. It’s also worth a shot to do something unexpected like read an old classic. Reading the original Peter Pan in the car could keep your kids captivated long enough to make them forget why they wanted to challenge their sibling to a deathmatch in the first place.
Map Out Strategic Stops
Some kids are thrilled to stop at a rest stop where they do nothing but kick a ball and check out the vending machines. Others may need something a little more exciting to get them out of their road trip funk and shift their bad mood.
Fast-food playgrounds are a special treat for kids, especially if it includes an ice cream or a normally off-limit item. Remember there are likely playgrounds and hiking trails just a few miles off the highway if you take the time to research. Crowdsource your stops by asking your social media friends and family where to go and what to see.
Recognize the Triggers
Your kids probably don’t just blow up at each other out of the blue. It’s likely your kids have specific triggers that set them off and will use predictable signals to show their frustration.
Observe your kids for a few weeks before your trip and take some notes on what’s going on. Your toddler may start quietly whining or wiggling before screaming at their sibling. Your older child may start complaining about otherwise unoffending things like their foot being asleep before exploding over the smallest infraction. Keep an eye out for the triggers and distract them with a book, some markers and paper or a sugar-free sucker.
Kids need boundaries and consequences, even in the car. So if they’re spiraling out of control with no end in sight, calmly alert them of the consequence and then follow up on it as unemotionally as possible. Take away their tablet for a half hour, let them know a special snack will no longer be offered and stay firm. Give yourself a high-five if you can actually work through why they’re so bent out of shape and reason with them. You may find they just need a little attention from the front seat or a hug at your next stop.