Successful Car Rides for Pre-Schoolers

Originally posed in April, 2012

Today there was a question in a Facebook parenting group that I belong to. I started to offer a response, and realized two things:

  1. My response would be too long for a FB comment
  2. Our readers might have a similar problem and could benefit from the suggestions.

Here’s the gist of the question:

Four-year old J. is battling mom when it’s time to get in the car and go somewhere. The only time he didn´t battle was when we got our new car form all car leasing, take a look at their specials. The only exception seems to be when they are going somewhere he wants to goWhat can she do?

We need to look at this from two different perspectives:

  1. Preventing disobedience is always best. So how can mom set J. up for success?
  2. How can mom let J. know that willful disobedience is never tolerated?

Setting Our Kids Up For Success in the Car

Battling mom about the car ride is J.’s way of communicating a problem. In this case, it seems like there could be two things going on.

  1. He’s anticipating a boring ride
  2. He’s feeling anxious about not knowing where they’re going and what will happen next

Fun Activities for Car Rides

There are a bunch of things we can do to fight car boredom for little ones. A few kid-friendly CDs might help. Raffi is an all-time favorite in our house. Check out his 20th anniversary collection.

Stop by the library and pick out a few book and CD combos. Four-year olds like to listen to the stories and turn the pages when they hear the beep.

A bean bag lap desk lets kids color, draw, and put together simple puzzles in the car.

You can also get a pocket organizer that attaches to the back of the front seat. Fill it with car-friendly activities. Fill a plastic bin that fits under the seat with more activities, and rotate things out of the pocket organizer to keep car play new and fresh. You can even get a tablet and let them play on these all new bingo sites to win money.

Here are some fun things to fill the pocket organizer:

  • Books
  • Finger puppets
  • Travel BINGO
  • Sewing Cards
  • Stickers and a notepad
  • Aluminum foil squares (they can use it to model into all kinds of sculptures)
  • Pipe cleaners (make bracelets or other creations)
  • Etch-a-Sketch
  • Magnadoodle
  • Colorforms
  • Small metal baking pan and magnetic letters and/or magnetic words
  • Black construction paper and chalk (they work very well together!)
  • Treasure bottle: fill a clear bottle 2/3 full with rice and a variety of small items (screw, pom pom, large paper clip, old earring, etc.). Glue the lid on so the contents can’t be poured out, and let kids try to spot the treasures by moving the bottle around and looking inside.

Car Conversations

The car is a great time to bond with little ones. Talk about the four seasons or practice the days of the week or the months of the year. Brainstorm ideas together for the next family outing or family fun night. Tell stories and sing songs together. Play I-Spy or other car games.

Also, use the time to talk about where you are going and what is expected of the child when you get there — another great way to set kids up for success.

If the time is used well, kids will often look forward to car rides.

Anxiety Busters

My oldest is autistic, and a day of errands used to be very stressful for him. He needed to know what was coming, and how long it would take. The following strategies helped him tremendously, and I found that my other kids appreciated them too!

  1. A list goes a long way – get a small, travel-size dry erase board and make a list of what you’ll be doing on your errands. Even if he can’t read, you can tell him how many things there are all together, and then read him the list. As you accomplish a task, let him wipe it off. And at each stop, remind him of what’s still to come, and praise him for behaving well.
  2. Time tokens – fill a snack size Ziploc with tokens (we used math counters). Each token represents a certain time frame (say ½ hour).  When that time has passed say, “A half hour is gone, and have him hand you a token.” If he behaved well, offer a small treat (i.e. a sticker).

Also, be sure to have a small snack and water available. Hunger and dehydration (or even the anticipation of it) can cause kids to misbehave.

Willful Disobedience is Never Tolerated

Once we have done our part to create a successful environment for our kids, they have to know that willful disobedience is never tolerated.

In our home, obedience means “immediately, cheerfully, and thoroughly.” There is tremendous power in definitions. For more detail on these definitions, check out the Power of Definitions post. If you like to listen on the go, you can also download the podcast of a recent radio show on the same topic.

Everyone needs reminders from time to time, so if it’s time to leave and J. starts to complain, the first thing mom needs to do is name the misbehavior (“You are disobeying me,” or “You are arguing.”) and then say, “Would you like to try that again?”

If he obeys, great, if not, she can say, “J., if you continue, you are willfully disobeying me.” Those words, once defined, should be a clear signal that his behavior will not be tolerated.

Willful disobedience is a rebellious, stubborn, and determined intention to do what one wants, regardless of consequences or effects.

In order for this to work, there MUST be a swift, stern, predetermined consequence. Parents need to decide ahead of time what the consequence will be for willful disobedience. It should always be the same, and it should be uncomfortable. When a child is willfully disobedient, there should be no delay in giving the consequence.

Parents must stay completely calm, get on the child’s eye-level, use a low-tone, firm voice, and say, “You have willfully disobeyed me. Now we have to ___________.”

If the consequence for willful disobedience is Time Out, and J.’s mom suspects he misbehaving intentionally to avoid the car ride, she can say ahead of time,  “If you willfully disobey mommy when we have to leave, I will have no choice but to pick you up and put you in the car, and you will not be able to listen to your music or play with any of your toys until we arrive at our first stop.”

If you follow the three C’s of Authority (Calm, Consistent, Committed), in time, the disobedience will be a thing of the past!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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