I’m not sure about you, but we seem to spend a lot of time in the car. We live in the middle of nowhere, which I love for many reasons, but I found out quickly after my son was diagnosed that most of his services were going to require a loooong drive. Like many kids, he can tend to get a bit restless in the car, and unlike many other kids, it takes him no time to learn which roads lead to the fun places and which roads lead to the places that he is not excited about going to. Whether you are headed off on a long drive to a fun vacation destination, or just spend a lot of time in the car day-to-day, here are some tips that have made my mom life easier when it comes to being in the car and on the road.
Trying to focus on the road and tend to a meltdown is difficult, and because preventing issues is better than managing them after the fact, I choose not to skimp on entertainment options. Generally I even have a variety of entertainment options available. This can vary widely even for us, although my guy does tend to prefer the repetitive, so it tends to stay with a certain theme for a time at least. We have the ability for them to watch movies in the van, or downloaded to a tablet, my boy also loves books so my preferred go to is to take a stack of those along as well. Headphones are always a plus so that you don’t have to listen to kid music or movies the whole ride as well.
Have you heard the saying, “You can have a clean car or kids, but never both…”? I’m not sure that there is a statement that rings truer to me. I applaud those families that can keep clean cars or clean everything, but that ship sailed for me a few kids ago. One of the main reasons for this is, I allow food in the car. I pretty much buy and keep a stash of snacks in the car at all times for when the hangry starts to creep its head out from the back seat. You can buy plenty of things to help prevent any permeant mess damage; weather tech floor liners, seat covers, subscriptions to a car wash (we have them all). But the reality is, my kids are little tornados, all three of them, and there is a good chance they will find a way to make a mess anyhow, so I might as well save a little bit of my sanity and provide food and snacks when needed.
- Get the Van
I know. It’s a van… Destined to be equated with soccer moms till the end of time. I know, no one loves the idea of a van, including me once upon three kids ago. Many of your friends may even tell you if you get the full-size SUV that it is the same as having a van but with the look of an SUV, but these friends are wrong and you need better friends. Ok, so obviously I am joking, but in all reality, they are very different. Yes, you may technically be able to seat the same number of people with a three row SUV, but I was blown away by the difference in the amount of leg room we had with our van compared to our SUV. It was honestly hard to even fit our rear facing car seat in the second row of the SUV without having an issue with it trying to share the same space as the front seat. Vans are also just made with kids in mind. I have built-in window shades, a built-in DVD system with headphones (Ahem…entertainment), a built-in vacuum cleaner for all the mess making, and the holy grail of car pluses with children- sliding doors. For every mother who has ever tried getting a click connect car seat out of the car while parked in a tight spot, or the mom with an oblivious 5-year-old who has no regard for the car parked next to you, they will appreciate when I say that sliding doors may be one of man’s greatest inventions. So, swallow the pride, own your mom status, and buy the van. I promise you will thank me later.
- Keep them all in reach
Kids are extremely needy, and they prefer to be needy at the most inconvenient times, like when you are driving. Having them more than an arms reach away is just going to add another layer of stress to your day because even in a stopped/parked position, you can’t tend to them. A lot of people don’t realize this, but most of the newer vans have a jump seat with the capability to have three seats in the second row, and lucky for me, I have exactly the right number of kids to fit all three in that row. I mean, my husband once asked if I wanted to try for a fourth, but obviously this would have messed up this configuration so I had to politely decline. My daughter is actually to the point now where she is quite self sufficient and could sit in the back, but for my next point, you’ll see why I chose keep her up close still.
- Utilize your Helpers
My 5-year-old daughter has grown into my designated helper, a title which she doesn’t really oppose too much either. Having two boys with extra needs and often feeling like I don’t have enough hands myself; she often comes to my rescue. For these car rides I have learned to keep some of those coveted items (snacks, entertainment) within her reach so she can distribute them to her needy brothers upon my request. If you don’t have child able to help you this could also be another adult that you have riding with you, remember nothing in life is free so make them work for that ride! And if it’s just you and a needy little one, then hopefully having them within reach will allow you to distribute items yourself safely along the way.
If you have a child that can still fit in a five-point harness you are probably fine, but if you are like us, and have a child who has graduated to a booster and is prone to unbuckle while on the road, alternative solutions are necessary. I imagine there are multiple potential solutions out there, but the one that we purchased that has been helpful for us is the buckle boss. It allows you to push the buckle in, but then requires a thin item to slip in between the cover to get the seat belt unbuckled. He is a smart by so fingers crossed that he gives us at least a few good years before he figures out how to bypass this himself.
- Be prepared to pull over
As I mentioned before, my boy learned what streets take him where, and he learned them early at only about the age of 2. He knew that if we didn’t make a right turn at the stop sign near our house that we weren’t going to the park. Which for a few years, with limited communication skills, led to unpreventable meltdowns. We continue to work hard on schedules either verbally or through pictures to let him know where we will be going and in what order. This has greatly helped our situation improve over time, but sometimes even with all the help I talked about above, a meltdown still ensues. So, when he becomes too upset and his dissatisfaction turns from vocal to physical, kicking seats or even windows (it would be helpful if kids weren’t so flexible), I just pull over. I’m not sure it would work for everyone, but he doesn’t seem to like when I do this. I wait until he calms down and once he does, we continue on. Sometimes stopping just once is enough, sometimes it seems like we will never get to our destination because I have to stop so much. This isn’t always the most convenient strategy, and it is definitely not good if you are short on time, but I am hopeful that consistency with this lesson will help curb these behaviors. I would suggest if you know that a destination is likely going to lead to these behaviors to give yourself plenty of extra time for the stops.
Well, there you have it. Plenty of tips that could apply to anyone driving with young kids, and a few tailored to those kiddos of ours that may have special and additional needs. Obviously modifying things to your child is always beneficial. My Damion really likes looking out the window so little things like making sure he always has a window seat can go a long way. Safety should always be first priority, so worst-case scenario, you make a long drive, ignoring the screaming child in the backseat, and get to your destination safely. It is not one of those parenting moments you will ever wish to get back, but probably a scenario that nearly every parent has encountered at one time or another. Hopefully with some of the insights above you can make your long drives with kids a potentially messy, but safe and bearable endeavor.
You can have a clean car or kids, but never both. -Some Very Smart Person