Rambunctious children can push a driver to the edge of insanity.
You might try calming them. You might try monitoring them. Either way, you won’t be able to focus on your driving, and that’s a problem.
Driving with passengers in the car – including children -- is one of the top driving distractions, according to Distraction.gov. Taking your eyes off the road for even a few seconds can cause an accident.
You need a strategy for staying calm, minimizing distractions, and maintaining your safety and sanity – all while keeping the kids happy. Here are five tips for keeping the peace when you're on the highway.
1. Hold a family meeting
Explain to your children why it's important not to distract you by crying, screaming, arguing, etc. Make sure they know the rules. And if the rules are broken, they'll lose privileges such as watching TV.
Johnna Ithier, a Pennsylvania special education teacher, says don't expect perfection even from well-behaved children during a long trip.
"They like to talk," Ithier says. "They like to sing. It might get a little loud."
2. Bring toys, games and books
Children are easily bored. Bring games and toys that are safe for them to play with in the car. They'll be more likely to be content. And let children bring appropriate toys they choose. They're feel like they’re involved in planning the trip.
"Just the thought of opening something new and exciting is great for kids," she says.
3. Stop the car if trouble erupts
Yelling at children or trying to separate battling siblings while driving is dangerous, even when you have a passenger to help you. Instead, pull over when it's safe to and deal with the skirmish calmly. It's better to be a few minutes late than to have a traffic accident.
Patience is important, says Deborah Pontillo, a clinical psychologist in San Diego. Children "have high energy levels," she notes, and it’s a challenge for them to sit for a long time.
4. Plan driving breaks.
Take periodic breaks and give children a chance to stretch their legs and use the restroom. Be sure to plan your breaks in advance. Along your route, look for a park with swings or a fast-food restaurant with a playground. If you don't give children a break, you may be setting the stage for an argument or tantrum.
"Once you are in the car, plan to stop every hour and a half and plan an activity to do," says Marsha Ryan, a counselor and parent coach at Chaddock, a residential treatment program for children in Quincy, Ill.
5. Set a good example.
If you want your children to remain calm on road trips, set a good example, says Ithier. Kids model their behavior on their parents' behavior and reactions. If you get angry every time something goes wrong, your children will think that's how to deal with stress.