Connect with Your Kids While Logging Miles: Purposeful Parenting Tips for Long and Short Car Trips

By: Becky Post

Many families spend a lot of time in vehicles in the summer, whether it involves a long driving trip or running kids to soccer tournaments. July is National Purposeful Parenting Month and a perfect time to connect with your children occurs in the car.

Occupy Your Preschooler

If you are traveling with preschool-aged children, make sure your little ones have something to do during the car ride. Jolene Roehlkepartain, author of Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose, says, “One key to traveling with a preschooler is to keep your child occupied so that he is focused more on an interesting activity than on the fact that he is stuck in a seat.”

The following tips can make a car ride more tolerable for everyone:

    Comfort. Give you child sunglasses or have a window shade to protect him or her from direct sunlight. Make sure the backseat is well air conditioned.

    Travel Rules. Do not allow children to touch door handles. If you have child safety lock mechanisms in your vehicle, use them. Do not allow hitting, yelling, or throwing.

    Car Seats. Everyone in the car must be in a car seat or wear a seat belt. If possible, find a toy car seat for your child’s doll or stuffed animal to sit in; this gives the child a chance to tend to a beloved toy’s safety.

    Space to Stretch. Make sure your child isn’t overcrowded. Your child should be able to easily reach activities and have space to move his or her arms and legs.

    Travel Bag. Stock a bag with new, stimulating activities like stickers, notebooks, washable markers, crayons, books, and snacks.

Empower Your Preteen

Kate Thomsen, author of Parenting Preteens with a Purpose, reminds parents that using car time—even short trips—is a great way to find out what is on the mind of young people. “Kids often forget that the driver can hear everything that’s being said. It’s a great opportunity to get a glimpse of what’s going on in kids’ lives: whom the popular (and unpopular) teachers are, the truth about bullies, and plans yet to be discussed and approved.”

Thomsen notes, “There is nothing like being a captive audience in a car, facing forward with a seat belt firmly in place. Eye contact is optional, and no one can leave! Parents can hold great conversations while riding in cars with their kids, especially with preteens.”

If you have a preteen in the family keep these ideas in mind:

    Co-pilots. Let your preteen have some say in how the trip goes. They can choose what music gets played in the vehicle, and they can help decide what restaurants the family eats in.

    Entertainment. Preteens can be enlisted to help occupy younger children in the family.

    Preparation. Don’t forget to help preteens prepare for a long car ride. They may need suggestions from you on what kind of clothes to pack. They also may need some new books, music, and movies to keep them entertained for several hours.

    Keep Your Ears Open. Don’t be shy about volunteering to drive your preteen’s friends around, because it’s a great way to meet their friends and families. Listening to the conversations of preteens can give you great insights into their interests and concerns.

Photo Credit: State Farm on Flickr.

Long journeys can be a nightmare if you don't prepare - like driving to the airport in the wee hours or something like that, especially if there's something "exciting" at the end. I like to prep my family for a holiday by getting some kind of group activity going in the car which includes the kids - even just something like a counting game to keep everyone talking to one another. Of course it helps if you drive up and stay in an airport hotel with some onsite parking (I like APH for that) but even if you can't then having an activity planned to keep everyone's mind off the imminent flight etc is much better than just resigning everyone to a long journey before anything truly exciting happens.
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These are all excellent suggestions. I love “Keep your ears open,” because as Kat Thomsen stated it is a wonderful way hear what is going on in your child’s life. One thing to add is if a parent picks a child up from school for a short ride home, cell phones and texting should be prohibited. This is a time to listen and connect with your child and hear about their day.

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