My two oldest children have just gotten to the age where I find myself spending more time in the car than I would like shuttling them back and forth between here and there. Friends told me this day would come. They said, “Enjoy the time at home when they’re little because once they get school-aged you’ll be spending most of your time in the car.” Well, they were right and for someone who considers herself a road-rage wreck, this is not good.
I knew I had to figure out a way to make this time in the car a more productive one. Yes, I still catch up on phone calls but I don’t typically like to have my phone near me in the car; it’s too much of a distraction and frankly, it’s just not worth the risk of getting into an accident. I started thinking outside of the box for things my kids and I could do in the car while we waited in car lines and attempted to get from point A to point B when everyone else in our town had the same idea. So, it all started with a bag of birthday blowers. You know, the ones you blow into and a tubular paper comes straight out making a loud noise with it. Yes, exactly the ones you’re thinking of from New Year’s Eve. Start with those and see what happens. I bet your car ride is much more fun tomorrow. Once you’ve tried those, give these next few ideas a try and see if you can’t turn that frown upside down.
1. Dance parties in the car can still take place sitting down.
Turn the music on or better yet, play a CD that you know your kids like to dance to and encourage them to sing their hearts out. With songs averaging 3-4 minutes apiece, an entire CD will get you through at least one way and then you can play a new one on the way home. This type of fun gets everyone involved and will even put a smile on those not so “morning” attitudes that can throw us curveballs.
2. Highs and Lows.
This is a great game and an important one to play, especially at the end of the day. Ask each of your kids what their high and low was for the day. High means the best thing that happened (movie at school) and Low means something they’d prefer not to deal with again or a situation they would like to do over (someone hurt their feelings). Not only do these questions get your kids thinking, but it gets the parent and child communicating. Even if your son doesn’t feel like talking or says he can’t think of anything, say, “Okay, well, when you’re ready, I’d love to hear it. I’ll tell you mine first.” And then go ahead and tell him what yours were. Keep your “Low” age appropriate for them but do share if you’ve had a bad moment or disappointment during the day. This reminds your kids that you’re human too!
3. The Alphabet Game.
You might remember this one from road trips you’ve taken in years past. Tweak the game a little bit and see if your child can find the letter and then tell you what the word says. For example, “Hannah, tell me when you find the letter ‘B’ and then tell me what the word spells.” This is great for elementary aged kids who are learning how to read. For the younger ones, just have them spot the letters for you. It’s still fun and they’ll be encouraged to get through the entire alphabet.
4. Breakfast Bar.
Lately, we have all been eating our breakfast in the car. This is not something that I want to get accustomed to but there are some mornings when we just don’t have the time to all sit down at the table. The night before I know will be a busy next day, I will put my kids’ breakfast in little snack bowls and get their cups filled up and in the fridge so that I can just pull everything out in the morning. Think dry cereal, granola bars, yogurt drinks, muffins, and fruit. If you want a low-key commute in the morning that doesn’t involve a lot of screaming, yelling and whining, food is always the answer. Always. This is also true for the car ride home. Make sure you have snacks in your glove box at all times. Kids are always “starving” when they get of school and there’s nothing quite like a satisfied child and a full belly to get you guys geared up for the afterschool shenanigans of playing outside, homework, dinner and bedtime.
5. Encouraging Phone Calls.
As I said earlier, I sometimes use my commute time to make phone calls. What I didn’t say is that I am specific about who I call during that time. Ever heard the phrase, “Little ears are listening?” That’s right. Your kids are super close to you in the car and can hear what you’re saying even when you think they can’t or even when you assume they are not paying attention. I am intentional about this part of my day which is why I usually call my grandmother. I want my kids to hear me speaking words of encouragement into her ear just as much as I want them seeing me being poured into by her words of wisdom.
Embrace the car ride for what it is; something you have no control over and the next season of your life for which you can choose to turn into something productive. Get yourself ready for tomorrow’s car ride. It’s going to be a good one!
Parenting journalist Meagan Ruffing is just getting started with what she considers “an untapped market” for children and adults alike. She came up with this list after spending many hours in the car each day wondering how she could banish her road rage. Visit her at www.meaganruffing.com and sign up for her free monthly parenting newsletter. Like her on Facebook at writermeaganruffing and be on the lookout for her new book, “I See You” coming out this fall.