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Parenting Advice: Kids Behaviour Problems in the Car

Updated on April 3, 2013

Kids acting out in cars

A lot of parents have asked me over the years what they should do when their child acts out while they are driving. Unruly, noisy, squabbling kids can drive a parent around the bend while they are trying to concentrate on making their way through traffic and safely get to their destination. Kids have a hard enough time sitting still at the best of times, especially when we have more than one of them in our vehicle. For some parents, even one child can create problems if the child tends to tantrum or worse yet take themselves out of their car seat or booster seat. As parents we need to find a way to manage these situations so that we have the patience and calm to be able to deal effectively with our kids throughout the rest of our day.

Plan ahead and stay calm

The first thing all parents need to be aware of is that we can’t be rushing when we have kids. If we do it will likely lead to problems. Most parents seem to know this but they don’t always plan ahead. Always leave early when you have children. There are too many things that can delay us and we can manage better if we aren’t rushing ourselves. Many modern parents are adrenaline junkies, maybe we drink too much coffee, we drive too fast, or we get frustrated and irritated by other drivers. Children see this and when their parents are anxious and adrenaline is oozing out of their pours kids notice and it affects the way they behave. By planning ahead a parent can get to their destination in a relaxed a worry free mood. This is a much better starting point for trips in our car; especially if we have kids that we already know may act up.

Yell, smack and whak: Does it work?

Parents often say. I am at the mercy of my kids when I am in the car. What can I do other than turn and yell at them or reach back and give them a whack. Personally neither of these methods will help a parent’s kids learn to behave better in the vehicle and the latter is just plain dangerous (not sure how my Dad managed, he sure seemed to have long arms). The most important thing for parents is to maintain their patience, find ways to manage their frustration tolerance, and just be cool. Driving is a serious endeavor and parents need to always remember that not paying attention can easily lead to an accident. I used to drive a van load of acting out children with behavioral issues for a program I was involved with and I realize how much of a challenge it can be. I know it takes concentration and focus to keep from being distracted by other things that are happening around us but we need to make it a priority. Yelling and whacking kids while driving is not the solution. If you have been doing it, as Dr. Phil would say, "how's that been workin' out for you?"

Youe lap is not a car seat.

Car time out? Really?

What parents can do when their kids do begin to act out is pull over for a car time out. This isn’t always possible but whenever a parent can do it they should. I would often keep a book with me and when a child or children acted out I would pull over at the first available safe place and start reading. I wouldn’t explain what I was doing and when they eventually asked me what I was doing I would let them know I can’t drive safely while they are acting out. I would also let them know it was a great book and I didn’t mind getting a chance to catch up on my reading. Sometimes they would test a little but when kids figured out I was not bluffing they usually got it together pretty quickly. Sometimes when a child is really difficult, a parent can plan an outing where they can pull over as many as ten to twenty times just to make their point loud and clear. Just do it on a day when you really don’t have to get those groceries or whatever it is you had planned. Believe me these learning trips will pay off down the road when you really don’t have the luxury of repeatedly stopping.

The bonus round

When kids have to go for a long trip it doesn’t hurt to have a nice bonus at the end for good behavior. Many psychologists and parenting experts suggest never using food as a reward due to all of the issues surrounding eating disorders. However, this is one time when the trip for ice cream or some other desired food is probably a wise decision and besides it is a reasonable event to have occur as part of an outing. If we tell our kids there will be a bonus at the end of the trip for good behavior they are more likely to comply. However for this to work a parent must be willing to follow through and not give the bonus if the kids still act out. If we want the bonus to be contingent upon good behavior then as parents we have to mean what we say. If we can’t do that then it’s better to not even mention the bonus in the first place.

Avoid the don'ts

Lastly, remember to always tell kids what you want them to do while they are in the vehicle. Yelling out don’t do this, stop doing that, and other negative commands rarely works. Tell them what you want them to do, that you want them to play or read quietly. Let them know when you appreciate them playing I spy or some other game they can play while traveling. Encourage cooperation and calmness while traveling in the car. And remember if you are an anxious high adrenaline driver your kids will take their cue from you. They will be less likely to be calm and cooperative while you are driving and you will end up in a vicious cycle of stressed parent, acting out child, even more stressed parent and so on. Do your kids a favour. Plan ahead when you have to travel by car, do your best to avoid being in a rush, and remind yourself it’s better to get somewhere late and safe than to not get there at all because of an accident. Parent calmly and drive safely, your kids deserve it.


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    • chuckandus6 profile image

      Nichol marie 

      7 years ago from The Country-Side

      kids in car yeah that can be a headache sometimes great advice lol : )

    • QudsiaP1 profile image


      7 years ago

      ... and they say there are no guidelines for parenting...

      Gosh you seem to have them alright. :)

      Great hub. :)


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