Are we there yet? If you’ve ever been in a car ride that exceeds 1 hour with young children it is highly likely that have considered very dark thoughts that you’re better off sharing only with your closest friends while enjoying a casual meal or adult beverage.
I recently found myself in this type of circumstance and it’s taken a couple weeks to recover and have the courage to sit down and write about the classic car ride question, “Daddy, Are we There Yet?”
Ever since my youngest was a few months old we have been taking car that can last as long as 11 hours. Our most recent trip was two 8 hour drives on back to back days. Prior to two years ago my wife did most of the drives with me and my two daughters, but now it’s just me. We discovered that it’s best if I drive and she flies. It saves us money, her time off from work, and our marriage.
Another reason is that I have a bit more confidence and success with my parenting skills on trips than she has. In this post, I’d like to share some of those tools and tips so that come your next distant car ride, you may be able to endure, tolerate, or even possibly avoid the question, “Are we there yet?”
Let me begin by talking about two things most of us already know are not the best choices, and why we need to consider alternatives because it’s not the best choice. Then I’ll share six alternatives.
Visual media are not good for the growing brain
Yes, it’s true. watching TV or the Ipad is not healthy for a child’s development. There is a growing body of research to support that conclusion. Some of the major takeaways from the research are:
- Children birth through two are growing 700 neural connections per SECOND! The stimuli around the child create and guide the development of the neural connects. Biologically those are not supposed to be the connections created by visual media.
- The images trigger the reward network in the brain
- Quick transitions from scene to scene disrupts a child’s ability to develop attention and self-regulation skills
- The stimuli or color and sound are counter productive
- Opportunities for human connection are removed
Threats or punishment do not work
Have you ever said, or has an adult ever said to you, “don’t make me pull this car over. You can walk if you’re going to _____.” News flash, that is no good. In addition to it being damaging to a relationship, it doesn’t teach anything but either how to be more intelligent with defiance or to fear the adult rather than trust and respect the adult. This applies to young children and old children.
So if you are interested in a consider alternative strategies that will mitigate your dark thoughts on those extended car rides, keep reading to learn about six recommendations.
Suprise! None of my six recommendations are not a magic bullet. They have been for me, but every family and child is unique.
Use audio recordings rather than video recordings
This is a little questionable for copy right purposes, but what on the internet isn’t. Additionally, It may be worth the jail time. If your extrodinarily concerned, you can always opt for audio books, but I have found those much, much, much less effective.
So how do you do it? you ask. How do you turn video into audio? For me, a pretty low-tech person, you connect one device that can play the DVD or streaming video to a computer that has an auxilary cable input. Download a audio recording program and presto! Touch play on the video and record on the computer program.
The key to making this work is to choose visual media that the children are already very familiar with. I choose the Netflix shows they have watched over, and over, and over again. Or the movies of the same royal status. That way, when they listen, they already know how to visualize every sound they hear. For my two year old who doesn’t have the interest or attention to watch movies or TV we have used recordings of stories read. Our library offers a scholastic streaming service called Bookflix. That has been amazing. If you don’t have access to Bookflix, there are several books on youtube. Give it a try.
Use the audio recordings as milestones
This is a harder one for my younger child because she prefers the books, but we switch off with her choice of book and my older daughter’s choice of movie. My younger daughter also likes a few PBS shows so those are also an option for her at this moment. Anyway, use these as milestones. For example,
“Our trip is going to be five movies and six books long. Then you map out which movies and books and let them keep track.”
Another thing that accompanies this is that if you have multiple children, they are more likely to use the time to play or draw while listening than watching. The audio recordings allow you to say, “we’re going to have silent time, or drawing time for the rest of this movie. You can even throw in a little behaviorism. “If you choose not to listen, you won’t get to choose the next movie. You need to show me you can listen if you want to listen to Cars.”
Have snacks and pack lunches
This one is not novel, but the way I format it is a little less familiar for most parents. It follows the model of using audio recordings. See the thing is that children thrive with routine and predictability, hence watching the same show or movie 100 million times. So have structure and routine for your snacks and lunch.
“After one movie you can have some fruit.” This has to be fruit or vegetables or a snack that they want and you can depend on them eating. If that means they’re eating pizza at 10 am so it be. It’s not my thing, but I’m not the parent of your children. What ever it is, it follows the routine and structure.
Prepare for toilet breaks on the side of the road
Diapers need to be changed and toilets need to be used, and depending on the age, children need to be nursed or bottle fed. This is essential, but it is not essential that you wait for a rest stop. Rest stops are asking for trouble if they break the routine and predictability. Additionally, “I need to go to the bathroom” can get very old very quick. This is not only for the kids, but also for you.
Bring a training toilet and wipes with you. Line the bowl with a some type of bag and then find a somewhat private area to help you child do what needs to be done. Put the wipe in the bag, tie the bag, and store it in a good spot until you need to stop for gas.
Speak of stopping to get gas, if you don’t already do it, make sure everyone goes to the bathroom…and don’t buy snacks. Those are already packed. Remember: Routine and predictability. While you’re stopped plan on some moment activities if they will help get wiggles out.
Possibly the most controversial and it’s not recommended…unless you’re will to do it
Wear one earbud and listen to podcasts. This serves a couple purposes. I forgot to mention that audio recordings should be played on the car stereo if possible. If that’s not an option, the sound will still be loud and it is likely that listening to the movie, show or book will help you stay happy and healthy. The second reason is that having on a headphone on can be an excuse to make your children wait.
“Children, I’m listening to something very important. When your movie is done, my show will be done and we can talk.”
Prepare, rehearse, and practice makes perfect
Don’t wait until your next car trip to try out these strategies. Try them out on your routine, shorter drives. Allow your children to get used to the strategies in the comfort of the less stressful drives. Additionally, it’s not like a 5 minute drive to the grocery story isn’t stress free.
These strategies have all worked wonders for me. Don’t expect them to be perfect for you, especially when your children are younger than three. And don’t hesitate to adapt the strategies. Make them work for you. Perhaps you alternate from one visual movie to one audio movie. Or toilet breaks at specific rest stops. Just remember; structure and routine…and as little visual media as possible.