Help! Back Seat Battles are Driving me Crazy!

Help! Back Seat Battles are Driving me Crazy!

Car rides can often be as challenging as bed time. “Moooom, johnny spat on me…again!”  “hey…make him stop poking me!” Ever here that going in the back seat? Are your children fighting and bickering in the car and driving you crazy?

Siblings often decide that being in the car is a perfectly legitimate reason to spit, kick, hit, yell or otherwise aggravate each other. For some parents, the prospect of a ten minute drive, let alone a road trip brings up surges of stress.

While it’s true that some positive parenting tools realistically cannot work in the car, like getting down to a child’s level, making eye contact and hugging, yelling out “cut it out!” and “stop it, stop it already” and threatening to put everyone in the corner when getting home don’t have to be the only way either!

If you are tired of back seat battles, whining and complaints even for the shortest car rides, here are 10 car-friendly positive parenting tools to consider:

1. Set up: If you can keep siblings a bit separated there is a good chance less aggravation will take place. If you don’t have the space to keep them apart, draw an imaginary line in space and explain you expect everyone to respect it. (Wishful thinking? OK I know its not going to work for all children, but with time and practice it just might!) Also, if the children are still in car seats, make sure they are as comfortable as possible while still being safe. An itchy shoulder strap, a crooked buckle can be bothersome and lead to crankiness, and more reasons to be fidgety and bother a brother or sister!


2. Distractions: Give each child something to do in the car, keeping safety in mind, choosing a toy or a book to look at can reduce the stressful interactions. We keep a few different things in the car that the children can choose from and rotate from time to time (Alright, that is code for our car is a bit messy ;)) .

4. Practice: If long rides are horrible, invest a little in your peace and take short practice rides, and when things go well, let your children know how much you appreciated the peaceful ride. Try driving to some fun places like parks and such that are just a bit further away too so your children can start to see what great places they can visit when they are in the car for longer stretches!

4. Use play: Part of practicing  especially for younger children can be playing car rides at home. With a toy car and some figurines, act out all the wrong things to do and all the right things to do on a car ride. Another play idea is to set up a car with some small chairs and go on an imaginary trip. Also, have your child be the driver and let them tell you what you can and can’t do in their car.

5. Audio Books: On longer trips, my children enjoy listening to audio books. This keeps them distracted and using their mind to imagine the story. DVD’s are easy to reach for but I find it makes many children cranky and over stimulated while the audio stories are engaging yet relaxing.

6. Reflective listening: so a huge fight has ensued because Johnny is breathing near Jane  Ask your children to take turns telling about their problems and state them back.  Read more about reflective listening here.

7. Involve: Invite the children to be a part of the solution. Instead of yelling out “no dessert if the fight keeps going” try instead to ask “how can we make this ride OK for everyone?” or “Can each one of you tell me what you need right now?” sometimes just getting the children to be part of the solution and welcoming cooperation goes a long way!

8. Music: Sing a silly song like the song that never ends or a round of 99 bottles of something on the wall or turn on some fun music to drown out the noise, to keep everyone entertained!

9. Road games: License plates number games, road bingo, bunch buggy, remember all those kinds of games? Other fun games are creating a story together or one of my favorites the “quiet cricket’s secret”  which is simple: The driver is the cricket and from time to time he says one word, preferably a really silly word – the children get to repeat the word also in whisper voice and if they say it correctly the cricket sends another code a while later! (This game rocks for driving with a headache!)

10. Be firm with kindness:  If you have tried the other tools and everything else has failed and enough is enough? Time to be kind & firm! Is the bickering really terrible?  Kids kicking the seats?  If you drive in a neighborhood setting and its safe, go ahead and pull over if the fights are unbearable and calmly state you can drive again when everyone is settled.  Explain again what children CAN do while in the car but keep it brief and avoid a lecture. Just be kind but firmly let the children know that you simply cannot drive with all the ruckus.  This may sound terrible and unpractical, but it’s really unsafe to drive with the kids screaming and distracting you, it’s much kinder to keep everyone safe!

What is your secret for keeping the peace in the car?

photo1 credit: dolanh via photopin cc

Photo2 credit: Kjirstin / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

4 Responses to Help! Back Seat Battles are Driving me Crazy!

  1. […] Help! Back Seat Battles really spoke to me this week as this is a big area we should work harder on. When the boys are next to each other it seems to make it worse so I was drawn to this list and the ideas. Reflective listening is something I’ve justed doing more consistently, although it wears me out and they interrupt each other so much maybe I should work on the interrupting first? Either way I’ve loved this article for practical ideas. […]

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