How to Stop Your Kids From Fighting on Car Trips

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“Summer time, and the livin’ is easy…” Well, that is until your two children in the back seat of the car start fighting. Is there anything that drives a parent more nuts?

Since it is not likely that your car arrived factory equipped with a chauffeur’s screen, the one you flip up at the touch of a button, you need help. You have probably figured out that calmly asking the kids to keep it down, yelling at them to stop yelling, threatening them that they’ll never watch TV again… just don’t work. So, what’s going on?

To your kids, the back seat of a car is home sweet home. Just like they misbehave more, defy you more, and fight more when they are at home, so they will do the same in the car. ..when you are there! I am quite sure that your fellow carpool driver never complains that your child bickers with the other kids when she drives. In fact, she says that your child is a perfect dream. Siblings fight in the car because it is just like home. In the familiar setting, the one in which the child is the most comfortable, in which he is sure of your love, he will practice his worst behavior. Your car is no different.

And in the car you, dear parent, are a captive audience. What your child wants most of all is your attention…negative or positive. Truth be told, he is sure to get your attention when he acts out, when he is nasty to or bugs his brother. Add to that the close quarters of the car and you have a perfect battlefield – all the ingredients for backseat bickering.

Here are a few tips for lessening the backseat bickering:

  • On a regular basis, give each child your full attention. Give each the time he needs and deserves, so he won’t act out to get your negative attention. Attention is attention, after all.
  • Don’t be an audience. When at all possible, ignore your children’s car fights. They are vying for your attention. Even one comment, one threat, one sigh, or one eye roll count as your attention. Ignore! Ignore! Ignore!
  • Ignore the fighting, not the children. When in the car pay animated and interested attention to the children when they are not fighting. They’ll get the message.
  • The issue is the noise, not the fight. Be clear about it: “In order for me to drive safely, you need to use quieter voices in the car. I need to be able to concentrate on my driving.”
  • Accept no tattling. Do not receive any complaints about who did what to whom or who did it first. No blaming. Pay attention only to the elevated noise that undermines you being a safe driver. “Your fighting is not my business. Your loud voices, however, are a distraction. I cannot drive safely when you are so noisy. It needs to stop now.”
  • Be consistent in your reactions. Everyone has a different tolerance for car noise and fighting. You need to react in the same way every time it happens, if you expect your children to learn you mean business. You can’t tolerate the bickering noise one day and blow your top the next.
  • If the noise of the bickering is driving you nuts: Pull over to the side of the road. Get out of the car and open the back door. Without anger but with utter seriousness say to your children, “I cannot drive safely when you are making so much noise. It needs to stop now.” Hopefully, they will be shocked enough to stop.
  • If the bickering persists: Pull over one more time. Get out of the car, once more open the back door and say, “I will not drive this car until the noisy fighting stops.” Then step away from the car, still within full view of the kids, and busy yourself. Clean out your wallet, work on your Blackberry, read old grocery receipts… but ignore the kids. Give it at least 4 or 5 minutes, and when things have settled down, get back in and continue on your way. No comments.
  • Forever more. Your children now have the message that noisy bickering will not be tolerated. No need for warnings in the future. At the first sign of raised voices, pull over. They will get your message loud and clear.
  • If your car has a third row, you have the option of moving a child’s seat. When two children are unable to sit peacefully next to one another, they lose the privilege of doing so. Move one booster or car seat to the back, or assign one child a new seat. Ignore the complaints. You will be amazed how quickly the fighting stops.
  • Distract! Sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t. But if you begin telling a high interest story (“Did I ever tell you the story of when Uncle Jon and I broke the living room window?”), you just might change the backseat action. Stories about you, about amazing things you have seen, anything that illicit a “Really?!” can work.
  • Learn some car games. Teach your children guessing and other games that you play only when you are in the car. “I’m thinking of an animal that has…” “I spy” “I’m going on a trip and I am going to take…” (Each person repeats what the person before has said and adds his own item to the list.) “Who can spot a padiddle?” (a car with only one working headlight) “Out of state license plates” Make up your own.
  • Tell them, “Sit on your hands.” This is a crazy cure, but it is distracting enough that it works. Before all heck breaks loose, as you sense things deteriorating, tell you children to “Sit on your hands.” It’s so silly and takes so much effort that it stops the fighting action.
  • For longer trips. Be sure that you are well stocked with commercial car games, like Connect Four, or hand held screen games. Many companies now manufacture games that are suitable for use in the car. Pack each child a backpack in which there are individually packed snacks, stickers/books, Madlibs (for older children),a few car activities he has never seen before. You can also try , a children’s travel store. Everything they stock are things children can do in their laps. There is Travel Bingo, travel knitting, travel puzzles, to name just a few.
  • Be sure to rotate seats at car stops. It offers a whole new perspective.