Riding in the car with kids is challenging for many parents. When the kids are younger, when the rides are longer and when you are the only adult in the car, it can be even worse.
Gal and I lived in Bangkok for a year and half and riding in the car our kids was something we did for hours almost each day. Eden was about 7, Tsoof was just a baby and Bangkok was a big traffic jam. One day, Gal was on his way home (well, it was a hotel, but we called it home for a month) and sat in traffic for 50 minutes until he decided to get out of the car and walk (oh, I forgot to say we had a driver). He arrived at the hotel after 10 minutes, showered, changed and went back downstairs to see the driver pull into the driveway.
To take Eden to see a friend on Saturday morning, we would drive for about 3 hours to a place that would only be 30 minutes away at 9pm. Going to work took 10 times as long as it would in light traffic and that got every worse during the rainy season.
As usual, when you do not have a choice, creativity sparks.
Sarawoot, our driver, was a lovely young man. He loved the kids and was very gentle with them. There was nothing he could do to make the trip any faster, but he was very accommodating towards my attempts to make the ride more comfortable and happy.
Here are some of my secrets for taking the kids on long rides. I tested them later while crossing Australia for 6 weeks and traveling 10,000km in our car with 3 kids, one of whom was only 1 year old. I would say this qualifies me as an expert.
Are we there yet?
Secret #1: Tell your kids how long they have to be in the car
Kids do not have a good indication of time. Only when they have their own watch and learn to read the time can they handle a ride better. When your kids are old enough to tell the time in the car with their own watch, let them know how long it will take to get to your destination. Always say, “We’ll get there in about 20 minutes”, or they will start counting seconds.
Secret #2: Share the plan with your kids
When kids ask, “Are we there yet?” they are actually saying, “I’m not sure what is going to happen”. If you tell them about the trip before you start, as this will make it easier for them to track what is going on and keep themselves motivated by noticing progress.
Tell the kids:
- Where you are going – “We are driving to the Mall”.
- How long it will take – “We’ll get there in about 15 minutes” or if they do not know how to read the clock, tell them, “When the big hand is on 4 and the small hand is on 3”.
- Any other plans along the way – “We are picking up Sally, so first we’ll stop at her place for 2 minutes. Then, we need to deliver this package to Grandpa’s house and after that, we’ll put some fuel in the car and drive to the mountain for about an hour”.
Secret #3: Kids get thirsty in the car
Always have drinking water in your car. You never know exactly how long you are going to leave the house for. Sometimes, when I pick up the kids after school, the first question they ask is, “Mom, do you have any water?” because they do not remember to take their water bottle in the morning or are too busy to go to the water fountains during school breaks and they are “dying of thirst”. Sometimes, we end up stopping to fill up the tank or to drop some books off at the library…
Your kids may not be aware of your plans for the ride and so they hop in the car unprepared. Sometimes, just being thirsty makes them fight in the car, simply because there is no other outlet for their bad physical feeling.
Secret #4: Kids get hungry in the car
Always take food with you on the road. Saying “But we just had breakfast” will not help. Just getting into the car seems to make kids hungry. If they are not hungry at first, they will be in hour or two and then an hour or two after that…
On long rides, have snacks in the car at all times. Hungry kids make the ride exhausting.
Important note: “snacks” does not mean “junk”. I take carrot sticks, pieces of apples, mandarins, nuts and dried fruit, as well as bite-size cereal. They are as effective, but much healthier, and prevent sugar-induced hyperactivity.
Secret #5: Homework
Homework can be a great thing to do in the car. It is actually good use of this “dead” time.
Looking down in a moving car usually results in motion sickness, so not all homework is good. So we do verbal activities, like practicing the times table, spelling words, planning and things involving short readings.
Secret #6: Make sure the kids do not throw up
Some kids get sick in the car, mainly because they are short and cannot look outside, especially on winding roads. Also, as soon as one person throws up, the smell often starts a chain reaction.
Make sure you have a barf bag, sour candy and chewing gum to prevent a long ride from becoming truly unpleasant. Check that the back seats (where the kids usually sit) are well ventilated and that the temperature is nice and cool for a fresh feeling. If not, ask the kids to roll down the windows to let some air in from the outside and take a few deep breaths while looking out the window.
Secret #7: Have regular toilet/stretch breaks
Make sure everyone goes to the toilet before starting the journey. On the road, stop regularly for a toilet break.
Whenever you stop, even if only one person needed to go, tell the kids, “Everyone goes to the toilet when we stop”. My youngest daughter keeps saying, “But I don’t need to go”. Do not fall for this. It is better to wait a bit longer once you have stopped than to make a separate stop for each person who needs to go.
Whenever we rode with our kids for a long time, we planned the trip in such a way that we stopped for lunch where the kids could play, like MacDonald’s, parks and other kids’ activity places. Driving more than two hours without a proper stop to run around is hard for most kids, but once they have let out some steam and broken the monotony of the drive, they should settle back into the car nicely for a big longer.
Coming up tomorrow: secrets #8 to #17 of Riding in cars with kids.
Until then, drive safely!