When a child is an infant, long car trips aren’t a big deal. You might put them in their car seat and they happily fall asleep for most of the trip. Even as toddlers, it’s still not terrible. They have no real sense of long-term time. They also might fall asleep.
All of this changes around age 6-1/2, possibly sooner. At a bit after the stage at 6-1/2, they get very discontent about things. They can’t stand when others mess up or offend them. They also follow through with things. As such, they absolutely have a strong sense of time and a sense of helplessness that they can’t get out of the van/car. This blog is about making a long road trip go a bit smoother.
I noticed this when we went on a trip for my 7 year old son. It was in fact his 7-year birthday trip. There was a sense of “Are we there yet!?” I noticed it with my daughter when she was 6-1/2. She reeled once about a trip to a beach house when she was 5. She wasn’t upset until the whole thing was over, however. She had no idea she would be in the van and stay in the van. It wasn’t until it was over that she said, “I did NOT like that!” But by 6-1/2 or 7, you might be dealing with, “Are we there yet!?” while they are in the vehicle.
In some way, long road trips can be fun. In other ways, they kind of suck. I remember sometimes liking long road trips as a child. “Wow! I get to think of anything I want the whole time!” In other ways, not being able to tend to your bathroom, food, or movement needs promptly, especially when the sun is shining at annoying angles or the air is stuffy, etc., can really grate on a person.
Plan Your Stops
To deal with this, one of the best things you can do is plan your stops. You can expect that, if you are on a road trip with an entire family, someone in the family is going to need to stop such that you are stopping every 1-1/2 hours. This is a highly realistic time. Two adults can probably go longer. But not two adults with a few children. At least one of you will need food, need to stretch their legs, etc.
Imagine this. You start to hear whimpering in the back of the van. You kind of sort of get the vibe that someone has to go. But you are convinced making it another 15-20 minutes would be great to make progress on the trip. So you hold your tongue. Or you say “we might need to stop in 15 minutes.” Then you pass a perfectly good gas station as someone blurts out, “I REALLY HAVE TO GO.” You have 5 seconds to make that decision to turn or not. And you probably don’t decide to turn, because changing course defies laws of momentum. So you just passed a perfectly good restroom while a child is in all-of-a-sudden unbearable pain. And all you see ahead of you are cows and country road.
Or imagine this. You know you want to stop. But you kinda want to stop at a restaurant to get some grub. You see a small town with some small restaurants. You aren’t sure they’ll have available seats. You stop. It turns out they don’t. You then want to find a more reliable food restaurant chain. But you have absolutely no idea where the next one is. It seems like the road should be dotted with them, but it isn’t. And then you find out the closest one takes you 20 minutes out of your way.
All of this can be a bit alleviated if you plan your stops. Take a look at the route you are going and see where you will be about every hour and a half. Plan if you want to stop at a simple gas station or a restaurant. Look for any formal rest areas as well.
This way when they start in on “are we there yet!?” you can calm them down with a concrete, digestible answer: you have x minutes to go until you make your first stop, which is y. They can stretch their legs, etc. there.
When you do stop, take advantage of it. Who wants to sit in a stopped vehicle? After it’s stopped, you hear the engine making weird noises. You can smell the fumes from the exhaust pipe. The a/c is no longer on and you’re getting hot. There are too many suitcases in the vehicle, making the air stuffy. Worse, you aren’t MOVING. Get out of the van/vehicle.
Have them breathe air in on purpose. And doing a few exercises can help. These are some of my favorites:
- Take GIANT steps. How few steps can you take to get from x to y.
- Have them skip down a sidewalk
- Do a grapevine: walk sideways with one foot going in front and then behind the other
- Walk on a “balance beam,” such as a line on the ground to follow
Teach Them to “Ground” when Dizzy
If on a trip, you might experience sensations you aren’t used to. Maybe it’s driving up especially hilly roads. Maybe it’s going on a gravel road for what ends up being 10-20 minutes. My children tend to get very dizzy in such situations. My highly sensitive child, my first, literally falls asleep, as he’s so overwhelmed.
This can get SUPER annoying. They will start to whine, complain, and hate their existence. This is all while you are trying to navigate somewhere new. As usual, it’s better to give them tools to deal with it rather than admonishments to be quiet.
You might teach them this before you even go. But if they get dizzy, pick something and look at it. Block out all other stimuli.
One way to ground is to have a nice drink. I purposely get “spring water” and tell my children it’s super water. And it is. It has minerals in it, like calcium and magnesium. Magnesium is known to have a calming effect. Make sure they have adequate liquid throughout the trip.
You might also put sun shades up and make sure the a/c is keeping the van cool. Long trips seem to naturally get hotter, for whatever reason.
Finally, on a trip, there might be a lot more whining. Things are just plain irritating. They can’t just go to the bathroom when they want, etc. They might start whining for something. It’s harder to hear them when you are in the front and they are in the way back. Teach them the protocol of how to do this. It might be:
- The kids yells: “I NEED SOMETHING!”
- Parent: Turns off radio, says “Yes?”
- The kid, from their belly: “I NEED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM.”
Teach them it’s hard to hear them in a van. They need to speak from the belly.
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