Parents in front of car and children in rear of a convertible car

Seven steps to curb sibling rivalry on the road

Published by Anne Bernard (July 14, 2017)

You may have heard that the family that adventures together stays together. Going on a road trip may sound like fun, but how do you start to feel when you haven’t even left your own neighborhood and you hear, “Mom, Jake’s touching my side of the car” and “Mom, Sophia’s making breathing noises”? Whether you’re going on a long cross-country journey or just a visit to the grocery store, having a carload of bickering kids can be exhausting and can leave everyone feeling irritable.

As with other parenting dilemmas, there are specific things that you can do that will help to stop the brawling in the backseat and save your sanity on the journey ahead.

Don’t allow space invasion
Kids may love playing space invaders on electronic devices, but don’t allow them to invade the space of other children in the vehicle.  Car seats are somewhat helpful in achieving this, as everyone sits in a defined area.  Make sure that each child knows to keep his arms, legs, and other belongings to himself. Installing a vehicle-specific pet barrier to ensure pets are securely positioned at the rear of the vehicle and not sitting on passenger’s laps can also help, as no one likes to be cramped on a journey.

Keep busy minds busy
If kids are occupied they are less likely to become restless and fractious.  Having a small amount of screen time can be OK to have some quiet time, but prolonged screen viewing can be counterproductive.

Playing travel games can mean that the whole family is involved and a group interaction can help deflect attention away from the children.  Simple guessing games such as I Spy or Rainbow Car (where you look for car colors following the colors of the rainbow) can be played by the whole family and can be a good way for very young children to learn names of objects or colors.

Alternatively, listening to a book on CD can keep the whole family entertained and, especially if there are funny sections, can help to keep the mood in the car upbeat.

Take regular breaks
Even adults can struggle to enjoy a long journey.  Make sure that you build breaks into the route so that everyone can visit the restroom, get a bit of exercise, and enjoy some fresh air.

Provide healthy snacks and drinks
Providing some healthy, nutritious snacks can be helpful to prevent crabbiness when kids are starting to get hungry.  Keeping the snacks healthy is important so you don’t have the backlash of sugar rushes to deal with.

Don’t fuel the fighting
The children need to know that they are not going to win your attention by bickering with one another. If the arguments are escalating, don’t allow them to be further fueled by parental attention. If the bickering is not abating, when you are in a safe place, pull over and stop, and in a calm, unhurried manner inform the kids that the journey will not continue until they stop yelling at or annoying one another. To deflect attention away from the children, try to busy yourself by doing something yourself that does not relate to the kids and no matter how hurried you might feel, try to appear as if there is no urgency to continue with the journey.

Establish consequences for poor behavior and enforce them
Children need to know that there will be consequences for poor behavior.  Establish what those consequences will be and stick to them if the poor behavior continues.  Your response should vary depending on the child’s age, but consequences need to be realistic and enforceable.  Examples can range from giving a timeout to restricting access to a favorite toy for a short amount of time.

Provide incentives for good behavior and follow through
It is important that the kids understand what behavior is acceptable to use and reinforce that by praising good behavior and giving them your attention when they use good behavior. The next suggestion might sound a bit like bribery, but you can say things like, “If you stop arguing, I will play catch with you when we reach our destination.”  In this way, the kids will stop squabbling in the car, will get some exercise after sitting down for so long, and will get the focused attention that they seek from you at the end of the journey. Do make sure you follow through on your side of the bargain.

These 7 tips may help you achieve a bit more harmony on road trips.  All 7 can be used in modified ways across many age groups. Try to adjust your approach as the kids grow, as what is highly effective during the terrible twos doesn’t work in quite the same way for tweens or adolescents.  We’d love to hear the solutions that have helped your family. Why not share them so more families can make the journey as enjoyable as the destination?

Anne Bernard

Anne is a copywriter for Travall who enjoys writing to help people navigate life more comfortably. In addition to her day job, she is mom to 2 amazing boys and loves to travel and hike with her family (spaniel included). Anne tries to experience the best of life’s journey – why not join her?

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