How to Prevent Behavior Problems on a Road Trip

Prevent sibling rivalry and behavior problems in the car.
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It’s one thing to go on a road trip with three of your college pals, complete with snacks, an awesome playlist and powering-through-the-night driving. It’s quite another to attempt a road trip with children who are constantly asking, “Are we there yet?!?”

Whether you’re headed on a four hour drive to Grandma’s house, or you’re planning to a two day road trip to your vacation destination, take steps to prevent behavior problems before they start.


Establish Road Trip Expectations

Toddlers will struggle to understand that you won’t tolerate screaming fits, nagging or fighting with a sibling while you’re on a road trip. Older kids, however, should learn and understand your expectations before everyone piles in the car.

Explain that you will be driving for two hours at a time—or however you plan your timeline—so you expect them to use the restroom before you leave. Let them know how many hours until you get to the fun place you’re going, and keep them updated on how many hours are left. Warn them that everyone gets a little grouchy from time to time—including Mom and Dad!—so everyone should do their best to get along.

Time the Trip Strategically

Some people prefer to head out on the road at night right when the kids are ready for bedtime, thinking that they’ll sleep through the majority of the trip. This could be an option if you happen to be a night owl, but consider the safety aspects of driving when you’re drowsy.

Another, and perhaps better, option is to take the kids to the park in the morning and let them run wild. Then, pile in the car after everyone is good and tired and ready for a mid-morning nap. This way, you can get through the first couple hours of the trip in silence and in the daylight.

Keep Kids Occupied

Although it can be tempting to prevent boredom by handing your child some electronics, staring at a screen for endless hours isn’t the healthiest option.

Limit the electronics time by giving kids a small toy or trinket every hour (provided they have been good for the previous hour). Options include a new coloring book and crayons, magnetic travel board games and sticker books. Don’t forget a lap tray for a convenient surface to color on!

You can also offer up a vacation-specific task; for example, buy and older child an empty scrapbook. Take photos during your vacation, have them develop at a one-hour kiosk before you go home and provide glue sticks, scissors, a few embellishments and markers to create a vacation scrapbook on the way home.

Take Frequent Breaks       

While you can and should create a schedule for your road trip so you have some semblance of organization, be ready to throw it out the window when kids get grumpy. They need to stretch and get out a little energy every few hours, so stop to take a break.

Scout out fun playgrounds just off the interstate or the top ice cream shop on the route you’re driving through. Consider keeping these stop a surprise for your kids—anticipation might make them ask how much longer even more frequently, and unplanned stops (for the children) make the trip exciting.

Don’t Forget Snacks!

Pretty much everyone gets cranky when they’re hungry. Pack a cooler full of snacks that won’t create a mess in the car, such as cut-up veggies, apples, string cheese, and juice boxes.

A family road trip doesn’t have to spell disaster—setting expectations and keeping children busy while on the journey can keep everyone excited and happy to get to the destination.

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