How to Make Sure Kids Behave in the Car
Parents: Don't get driven to distraction by backseat shenanigans
What’s more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving your kids around town? Hearing those children whine, scream and fidget. According to researchers at Australia’s Monash University, backseat bedlam can be 12 times more distracting than using a phone.
You can’t exactly unplug a tot or put a tween on vibrate, so what can you do to make driving with kids safer and saner? Start by making car rides as pleasant and comfortable for kids as possible so they’re less likely to act up.
Handle potty needs ahead of time
Make sure every kid who’s toilet-trained uses the bathroom before you even load up the car. Even the one who insists he “doesn’t have to go.” Check and change babies’ diapers and toddlers’ pull-ons, too.
Organize car activities before you start the car
Recorded stories, music, soft toys, books and travel games can keep kids occupied in the car. But don’t wait until boredom sets in to bring out the goodies. Make sure everyone has something to keep busy with before you turn the key in the ignition, driver-safety experts from Colorado’s Division of Human Resources recommend. Be sure electronic games and hand-held toys are working before you leave as well.
Bring snacks or plan a snack break
Hunger and thirst can fuel dramatic mood swings and outbursts. Serving up snacks while driving is dangerous, though, notes Karl Neumann, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and editor of kidstraveldoc.com. Make sure little bellies are full before you leave. Bring along age-appropriate nibbles for kids old enough to safely (and neatly) open zipper-lock plastic bags and juice boxes. If children become overcome with hunger, take a snack break.
Take activity breaks
On long trips, stop frequently at parks and playgrounds to let kids run around, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. Bring along a ball or a Frisbee so the whole family can stretch their legs.
Lay down the rules of the road
Make sure young passengers know what’s expected of them in the car and how misbehaving might impact the trip.
Rule #1: Climbing out of a car seat or unbuckling a seatbelt will result in an unscheduled stop. When you explain this rule, underscore that breaking it could mean being late for school or missing the start of a party. Even a young child will get the message that vacating her seat will slow down the action after she does it once and you pull over to strap her back in. When you do, make sure she didn’t escape because of some flaw in how her seat was installed: A nationwide study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 46 percent of car seats were installed or used incorrectly .
Rule #2: If it falls on the floor, it stays on the floor. Tell kids that you cannot reach back to retrieve things they’ve dropped. Reaching into the backseat can cause you to lose control of the vehicle, the American Automobile Association warns. If a baby or toddler becomes inconsolable after a binky or favorite toy takes a tumble, pull over when it’s safe to retrieve it.
Rule #3: Yelling, fighting and whining are not allowed. Tell siblings it’s important to respect each other’s space in the car and that the backseat is a bicker-free area. If a quarrel erupts anyhow, pull over and make clear that no one will be going anywhere until things settle down. Offering a reward (a side trip for ice cream, for example) for good behavior before you set out often will keep kids from fighting in the first place, suggests SafeRide4Kids, an organization of certified child passenger safety technicians.