You know how angelic your kids are at home, at the playground, and even at school, but then they get in the car and BAM – all hell breaks loose? You can put an end to that and finally drive in peace following this guide to surviving car rides with kids
Kids and cars. A part of me is confident that the mere reading of this sentence is enough to make you cringe and grind your teeth, somehow hoping you’d never have to get them in the car again.
I get it; I really do. As soon as the kids are in the car, the bickering starts. The raised tones, the fists, the slaps, the throwing on nearby objects, the foul language. Feels like nothing will work to soothe the atmosphere and suddenly the max limit is a glowing recommendation rather than a law one must abide by.
Please note: this is a joke. Don’t speed, no matter what happens!
So What Happens As Soon As Your Child is Buckled Up?
There’s something us, adults, don’t get about car rides. Only being in the car prevents human beings from meeting quite a few of their existential needs, and I always say that children are much more attuned to their needs and feelings than adults are. This is the reason for which kids react the way they do to car rides.
Existential Needs and Car Rides
The following is the list of needs that are AUTOMATICALLY unmet as soon as that buckle clicks, and the heart of this guide to surviving car rides with kids, because we’re not aware of these underlying needs that so many times control our life’s experience:
The Need For Movement
We have to move to survive, this is a fact. As soon as we are “locked” in the car – we can no longer move as we wish. Us, adults, we understand that we must sit for a while if we want to get somewhere, but kids don’t get it, at least not profoundly enough to allow them to accept the need for movement temporarily not being met.
The Need For Choice
The need for choice is an existential need that rules all human beings, especially when it is not being met. As soon as your child is buckled up, his ability to choose is practically gone. And it doesn’t matter how many books, coloring books, games, and LEGO blocks you have with you – because all he really needs is to move to his own choice, which he cannot do.
The Need For Freedom
You can sense that freedom is a big word; it is also a significant need. While freedom incorporates movement and choice, it also includes other aspects such as the ability to control one’s life, the ability to make decisions, and the ability to follow through with one’s wishes. All these are not an option when buckled up in the back seat.
The Need For Space
The need for space is another significant need; not only that people need to be able to move freely in their space, but they also need a space that is exclusively theirs, space they have under their control, and their choice in it is the leading one. As you can imagine, if you have more than one child buckled up in the back seat, each elbow that crosses that imaginary line, each tone raised too high, and each touching knee can drive your child crazy. And it does.
The Need For Spontaneity
The need for spontaneity is, again, the broadening of the previously explored needs that includes yet another aspect – the ability to make a different or a new choice in the same time frame. In other words – to be free to follow through with immediate wishes to have their needs met.
The Need For Autonomy
Spontaneity, freedom, choice, movement, and space are all parts of the need for autonomy, that is, by far, one of the more significant and prominent, experience-ruling needs, especially for children who didn’t yet master the life of unmet needs in the way that we, adults, already have.
Now that you know the underlying reasons for which your kids seem to go crazy during car rides, you’re probably wondering what you can do 🙂
You Can Yell, And It Will Work – Sometimes
You know the feeling when that roar start building up in your chest and starts climbing up and out of your throat until you hear a voice you can swear isn’t yours screaming “STOP IT!!!!!”
Not only that it often happens to all of us, but it also, sometimes, works, and it might give us the idea that this is the best things we can do to drive in peace finally. But in the long run, this doesn’t really work in our, or our kids’ favor.
Why? Because all the kids were trying to do is to communicate their needs. True, they don’t know how to name their needs yet, and they are definitely not yet mindful enough to actually pause, think about it, and tell you what they are really bothered by. But we, their parents, we know what’s going on. And we don’t want to give them the feeling according to which communicating their needs is something we don’t want them to do.
When We Yell…
Each time we raise our voices at children who are communicating their needs, we plant a tiny seed of distrust, and if that seed grows, our kids end up thinking twice before standing for what really matters to them and defending their needs and feelings. As a parent, this is the last thing I want to do.
I want to raise children who know they can communicate anything with and to me, who can tell me anything, and know that I will accept them and their message with compassion and empathy.
The second reason for which we don’t want to yell is that modeling is the only way in which kids actually learn. We can try to teach our children respect, accountability for needs and feeling, empathy, and compassion, but if we end up yelling when things get tough – that’s what they will do, too.
The Guide to Surviving Car Rides With Kids
The first things we should do is breathe; whenever I feel that roar climbing up, I remind myself that speaking needs is better than not speaking needs, and if I need a moment to collect myself and connect to what’s important to me – I take that moment. Even if it means that the screaming will continue for a minute longer.
I then remind myself that it’s not about the solution because concentrating on solutions perpetuates the fact that there is a conflict. And we want to move to peaceful grounds, don’t we?
So what should we do? We should concentrate on the needs, give them names, being, acknowledgment, validation, and space.
Instead of sticking to the physical realm that has to do with not having enough room for legs, sudden thirst or hunger, or the annoyance of the other sibling, I shift to the realm of needs.
“Are you so upset because you wish you could have some privacy and space for your thoughts and legs”?
“Are you annoyed because [sibling] is loud and you wish you could have some peace and quiet”?
“Are you agitated because you don’t know how long it will take us to get there”?
When we talk needs and feelings, everyone suddenly feels seen, heard, and understood; this is a conversation that connects us one to the other and reminds us of the power and the unity of the family cell we’re all part of.
The real beauty of human needs is that being seen and validated when practical solutions are not possible, feels almost like having them met.
Other Practical Ideas to Surviving Car Rides With Kids:
- Talk and prepare ahead of time: maybe even the day before. Knowing what’s to be expected and feeling that “my parents trust me to manage this situation” is empowering and helps the actual on-spot coping.
- Vent possible energies: when possible, enter the car after a good run at the park or another tiring activity.
- Time car rides with sleep: if your child still naps, try to time the ride with his nap schedule.
- Stimulate physical senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound – try to have as many stimuli as you can that address all physical sense (and have to do with your child’s interests, of course)
- Make as many stops as needed: even if it means getting there later. It’s worth it. And if they’re asking to pee 1,093 times? Stop and pee.
I hope you enjoyed and benefited from this guide to surviving car rides with kids. Want to talk about it? Have special challenges I didn’t mention? Join my parenting support group on Facebook and tell me all about it 🙂 I would love to meet you!