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My No Fail Trick to Getting Kids to Behave in the Car


My mother reminded me the other day that this no-fail trick to getting kids to behave in the car was her go to parenting weapon when I was a kid.


She took the wind out of my sail.

I am brilliant. No, wait, she is brilliant.

Whatever, it works. Bottom line.

how to get kids to behave in the car

How to Get Kids to Behave in the Car

Picture this scene: You’re on the school pick up loop. You picked up child #1. He immediately begins (literally) begging you to go to his favorite pizza place for dinner, which is not going to happen for reasons known to him. Obviously a bit “hangry” (a cross between hungry & angry), I suggest he take a look at the items left in his lunchbox. Oh, man, was I asking for it.

Finally, we arrive at child #2’s school. He doesn’t even ask me any questions, just launches into whining, sighing, and foot stomping the moment he hops into the car. He wants a snack, needs a snack, desperate for a snack.

I make the same suggestion: “Anything left in your lunch box? Maybe you could have a snack.” If I hadn’t learned my lesson a few minutes ago with child #1, I learned it with child #2. Salt in the wound.

That moment, fraught with noise and overstimulation for anyone trying to focus on driving, was actually quite calm. I felt a sense of peace. I knew what I needed to do.

Tip for Getting Kids to Behave in the Car

The tip is so simple. It requires a bit of time so hopefully, you worked in a bit of a cushion.  Trust me, the learning curve is steep.

Here we go: pullover

I confidently pulled over to the side of the road (in a safe spot), turned off the engine, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and then I waited for them to notice.

My older son stopped immediately. His younger brother looked at me with evil eyes.

“I need to be able to focus on driving. So, I pulled over. As soon as you calm your body, I will continue going.”

The longer we waited on the side of the road, the prospect of satisfying any hunger seemed further and further away.

Here is the deal: my oldest son knows better. He has the self-regulation. He was caught up in the moment. He was trying to pull a fast one on me. His younger brother is working on self-regulation. He is also a rigid, explosive child who (with the guidance of his parents) is training his body to recognize when his engine is high and which tools he can access to help him calm his body down. Kind of a painful process, but so gratifying to watch as he progressed. Pulling over, for him, was a trigger and it also stopped the car from moving which enabled him to sync back up with the world.

We’re in the car a lot. I need to be able to focus. My kids need to be able to learn how to control themselves. Pulling the car over to the side of the road and stopping the engine is my no-fail trick to getting my kids to behave in the car. Be calm. Be confident.



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