Many parents dread taking their kids in the car for any amount of time. From cries of "He's touching me!" to complaints of boredom, spilled juice and snacks, fooling with the door locks or actually escaping from the child restraint, car rides can be an endurance test for parents. But when kids don't behave during car rides, they're a distraction -- and distractions can cause accidents. Even if you're a fairly easy-going parent most of the time, when kids are in the car, good behavior should be mandatory.
Setting the Rules
Certain rules should be absolute when your kids are in the car; if you can't establish such rules, you've lost the war before the rides begins. Sitting in a proper safety seat, whether it's a booster or a five-point harness car seat, is non-negotiable. While it's unreasonable to expect that your 2-year-old won't try to figure out how the harness comes undone, it's completely reasonable to expect that your 5-year-old will leave it alone. Rules about food in the car are fairly easy to enforce because you're the one who gives them the food. Rules such as, "No arguing" are harder to enforce, but essential if the arguing really interferes with your concentration and makes you a dangerous driver.
Enforcing Non-negotiable Rules
Enforcing rules takes discipline. If your child is going through a stage when he thinks taking off his seat belt is funny, you have to enforce consequences, not once, but every single time. Yes, this is tedious. Pulling off on the side of the road and sitting there, without saying a word, or whatever method you've chosen for enforcing unbreakable rules, is frustrating when you're running late. But the only way a really stubborn child will get it is if it is consistent, no matter what the circumstance. Late for school? He'll get sick of going to the office for a tardy slip. Missed the start of practice and has to sit on the bench? Too bad.
Making Car Rides Easier on Yourself
Parents often debate the use of electronics or special car-only toys to keep peace in the car. Every parent has to decide for herself whether the peace is worth the extra video time. And if you have only one phone with games on it and two children wanting to play it, you haven't really solved anything. Playing kid-requested music and singing along works for some. Food can help keep little mouths quiet, but choose non-messy treats; chocolate and bags of candy containing a million little pieces that will roll around under the back seat is out. Juice boxes or lidded cups spill less readily than a cup without a lid.
Rewarding Good Behavior
Rewarding your kids for good behavior in the car is a double-edged sword. Some actions in life shouldn't be rewarded; kids should learn to do them as a matter of course. Buckling up in the car is one of those things. Don't start rewarding basic human behaviors. While a piece of candy might seem like an easy-enough reward, his demands will escalate over time, and how many times can you give in to the demand to buy a pony? But as long as your kids understand that the rewards don't escalate over time, a reward chart might help create peace in the car.