It’s that time of year: Spring and Easter vacations, sunny weekends, and all of us itching to get out and go somewhere pleasant. However, pleasant road trips with families sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms sometimes. I mean, what’s fun about hearing your kids fight for hours on end all cooped up next to each other? Or how about the infamous, “are we there yet?” That’s one cliché I’ve all come to realize is an actual phrase kids use. What if we could enjoy our kids company, and enjoy them enjoying each other’s company along the way?
The Balm of Boredom
One parenting myth we’ve created for ourselves in our society is that boredom is a bad thing. And it’s especially bad nowadays to let your kids be bored. Do you remember having to go sit at a parents’ doctor’s appointment or a sibling’s piano lesson or sports practice? I sure do. And I didn’t have a Nintendo DS, or I-anything to keep me occupied. No sir, it was just me and my imagination, unless I was smart enough to think ahead and bring a book or notepad to doodle on. Which, by the way I learned to bring because I was bored. See, boredom promotes thinking, whereas constant entertainment typically does the EXACT opposite.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t have a movie played in your car every once in a while, but for those of you who have had those devices en route, how quickly does the entourage begin begging to watch a movie every time you get in the car? Really? Do we really need a movie on our way to the grocery store two blocks away? It’s ok to let your kids be bored. It lets them think, and learn to imagine. It lets them experience their own minds. And when you do resort to a movie or an entertainment device, try to pick movies with sing along songs, or gaming systems that promote thinking like a Leapster or something similar.
Encourage Peace and Harmony
Kids don’t usually arrive on this planet knowing the importance of sharing, negotiation, and compromise. These skills are typically taught. We all want our kids to get along, and we know the importance of keeping the peace, but not all our methods win us those results. In the car it’s especially difficult, because separation isn’t an option, and our yelling to stop the yelling is counterproductive. So what do we do?
I like to tell my kids that listening to fighting is not a service I offer for free. When the arguments start, I simply look at the clock and make some sort of victorious sound or gesture like a “YES!” or a fist pump, or I say, “Woo-hoo! The money clock starts now!” I charge per minute to listen to their arguments, and you wouldn’t believe how quickly they can let something go when they’re paying for it.
Afraid your kids don’t have any money? Give them some. You heard me, if they don’t have an allowance or something similar, give them some money. My parents did this once on a road trip from our home in Salt Lake City, Utah to Las Vegas. It was a 6 hour drive, and let me tell you those geniuses thought ahead. They handed us each a roll of coins (nickels, dimes, quarters, it doesn’t matter) and charged us a certain amount every time we fought. We had to pay up on the spot and whatever we had left over when we got to Vegas we got to spend at an arcade. Worked like magic.
Another idea is to have each child pack their own activity bag. Some kids might love books, but other kids would prefer coloring or mazes and word games. Maybe it’s a long trip and you want all of the above in your arsenal. By having them think ahead for the time when they might get bored they’ll be ready for the eventuality. They might not feel as inclined to blame you for their boredom, or make you feel it’s your responsibility to alleviate said boredom.
One fun thing to pack in an activity bag is a homemade I spy/Scavenger hunt game. Make a list of things you might see on your trip and have them check them off the list as they see them. Possible items on that list might include a person on a motorcycle, a certain billboard like McDonald’s or Chevron, a yellow car, roadkill, farm animals, letters of the alphabet, certain hairdos on passing motorists, etc. Games to play together are always a hit.
What are some of your favorite “happy road trip” ideas?