Doing Life Together

ID-100282345Q: The minute I get my kids in the back seat of the minivan, the ride becomes a ride of horrors! They start picking at each other and fighting. I dread taking them anywhere and feel like they’ve got me because we are usually on a time crunch and need to get to our destination.

A: Even bucket seats do not always prevent kids from picking on each other in the car. There is something about being confined to a small space that can bring out arguing and fighting. You need a plan.

My first idea is to allow an extra ten minutes to get to your destination. Calmly tell the children to stop fighting and wait for them to settle down. Make it known that you will stop the car and wait  until they stop. Then do it. Pull over, sit and wait. This can be very boring. If they start up again when you are back on the road, pull over, sit quietly and wait for them to stop acting out. Eventually, they will see that you mean business. The extra ten minutes (or more) you allow will remove the time crunch.

If you have a TV in the van, take charge of the remote until they quiet down. The remote control is powerful and should be given only if they stop fighting. In addition, any small moment of appropriate behavior between the children needs to be praised. This is important because you are switching your attention to appropriate behavior versus fighting behavior. For kids, parental attention is a powerful reinforcer whether it is negative or positive. Make an effort to attend to the positive–praise when they get along and are enjoyable in the car.

One other solution is to give children a job to do the minute they get in those car seats. For example, hand them a map with the names of the streets you will be passing. Make a game out of finding the streets and yelling them out. Or have them count the number of red cars, specific signs, trucks or any object that will focus and distract them from each other.

If  you need a final incentive, add a reward for pleasant, non fighting car rides. Specifically define “pleasant” as no fighting or arguing. Then sit back and enjoy the ride!

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