What to do When Children Bicker in the Car


My children are now teenagers, and we still occasionally have this. Here are several ways to solve:

Settle specifics – In our house, it has always been the music. Settling specifics means coming up with a full, solid and publicly agreed upon plan for repeat conflicts. For a few years, our plan was structured around whoever was in the front seat picked first, and on commercial breaks, control alternated. At some point, a great debate started about what constituted a commercial break so we restructured. You might have a simpler plan like following odd/even days. On odd days one child makes all those decisions, and on even days the other child.

Bring supplies and BOOKS – Stock the car with things to keep them busy. This might be magazines, notebooks and pens, magnet games or car bingo. Once children are reading, car rides provide an opportunity for them to really get into their stories. I remember reading whole novels on our trips to and from the grandparents house each year.

Give them something to listen to – Their music is a great place to start. Books on tape can be a helpful way to engage them. You might find these using the Audible app or at your public library. Listening with individual earphones might cut down on the bickering. Give them noise reduction earphones or earplugs while they color, play with their magnets or read, and it might also reduce the bickering.

Play games – You might keep them busy with games like the Alphabet game or Find the States game. Here are a few links for car game ideas: Best Car Games for Kids, Fun Car Games and Moms Minivan.

Sing-alongs – Car rides are a perfect time for sing-alongs. This might be to your children’s favorite CDs, or you could teach them songs that you know. I lean towards campfire songs and patriotic songs.

Conversation starters – There are several companies that make question boxes. This includes Melissa and Doug, Table Talk and American Girl’s box of questions. These are a great way to start conversations that encourage everyone to participate.

Give them elbow room – It may be helpful to seat them farther apart. If you have a third row, consider moving one of them back there. Once the oldest is 13 years old, they might move to the front seat.

Put up dividers – When all else fails, divide and conquer. For about six months, when I was in elementary school, my dad set a huge cooler in between us in the back seat. I couldn’t even see my brother, let alone bicker with him. Cardboard might be easier.

Stop the car – When all else fails, it’s fine to pull the car over and wait. However, it doesn’t help any if stopping the car is an empty threat. You’ve got to really pull over and wait them out. This is all the better if you are headed somewhere for them. My dad used this idea right before the cooler.


More Car Games

I have been thinking since the last post of all the additional ways we keep the kids engaged on road trips. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Collect as You Go – Bring an extra backpack to let children collect ticket stubs, receipts, brochures, maps and souvenirs as you go. This can be a treasure trove of supplies for scrapbooking or other art projects after the trip.
  • Pick up Brochures – I know I mentioned brochures, but they deserve their own bullet point. This is especially true if you stop at a hotel lobby or rest stop that has a wall of brochures. Encourage your children to take a copy of all that look appealing. These can provide a few hours of quiet reading and conversation. They might also spark a detour to a local museum or bakery (Mr. Sticky’s in Williamsport PA on our last trip – amazing!).
  • Have a Navigator – I know most cars have an electronic navigator, but there are good life skills in teaching your older child to read and follow a map and calculate mileage, distances and times for travel.
  • Bring a Child-Friendly Digital Camera – A camera or video camera that you allow your children to use can do wonders for long car trips. Let them take 100s of pictures then print a few of their favorites to document. We have a few creative videos my then bored nine-year-old took from the back seat of the mini-van that are priceless.

Car Games

On long roadtrips, it can be tempting to let kids plug-in to their i-pods or watch movies all day. I tend to think the car is the perfect place to connect with each other, you have a captive audience. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Play Games – 20 Questions, Punch Buggy, the License Plate Game, the Alphabet Game, Packing for Grandma’s, Add-a-Sentence Stories
  • Sing-Alongs – With young children, this is preschool and campfire songs. I loved relearning patriotic songs like America the Beautiful and folk songs like Puff the Magic Dragon as my girls hit elementary school. Now we have top 40 and alternative rock sing-alongs with the radio.
  • Books on Tape – This counts as reading aloud time and can be very enjoyable if you find a book that appeals to the whole family. We started with the Winnie the Pooh Classics Collection and have worked our way through Judy Moody.
  • Bring Car Toys – We keep a bag of toys on the shelf in the garage that are just for long trips. If they are available at other times, they won’t last long in the car. This includes travel board games, magnet dress-up dolls and playscenes, a foam tic-tac-toe board, travel bingo, woodkins and a rubics cube.
  • Bring Car-Friendly Art Supplies – Think notebooks, pens and pencils, crayons and coloring books, Colorwonder markers by Crayola and scratchpaper.
  • Bring New Magazines – The kids get several magazines including Cricket, National Geographic Kids, the American Girl magazine and Highlights. When these come in the mail, they go immediately in the seat pocket for roadtrips.

Please comment and share your best ways to keep them connected on roadtrips!

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