There’s only one more week of summer left before school resumes but you can still hit the road on the weekend for summer and fall adventures! Traveling with kids is exciting and has the potential to leave lasting memories, but it can be a lot of work.

With some planning and preparation, long car rides can go smoothly. This week, we discuss traveling in cars with children.

Bags are packed. Now what?

The most common challenge about traveling with children is that they get bored easily, which can lead to misbehavior. With little to do and few distractions, preschoolers and older children are likely to whine, complain, fight with their sibling, or refuse to wear their seat belt.

This is, understandably, stressful for parents, as well as distracting.

The first step in tackling car travels is to prep your child ahead of time.

  • Explain the importance of car safety, including staying in your seat buckled up.
  • Explain why it is important for the driver to stay focused on the road.
  • Talk to your child about where you are traveling and how long the trip will take.
  • Show your child your travel route on a paper map.

Then, go over the “Rules of the Road.” Decide on two or three easy-to-remember rules for your child to follow while in the car. This could include:

  • Use a quiet voice.
  • Always keep your seat belt on.
  • Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  • Keep your feet off the seat in front of you.
  • Hand toys to each other gently.
  • How to tell you they need to stop.

If you’d like, you could offer a reward for following the rules. A special activity or present given at age appropriate intervals, and when you arrive at your destination could be enough incentive to keep your children rule-following.

Keep ‘Em Busy

Long car rides require some planning when it comes to entertainment. Your children’s ages, stages of development, interests, and abilities will all play a role in what you take with you and the activities you plan.

Some parents like to make special backpacks for each of their children containing new or special items to play with. You could go to the dollar store and let them pick out some special items for their backpack, or you could surprise them.The backpack could include:

  • New coloring or activity books with washable markers.
  • Picture books.
  • Their favorite snacks or drinks in no-spill containers.
  • A disposable or children’s digital camera for your older child to take pictures.
  •  A personal journal for an older child to document their trip.

You may need more than an activity backpack to keep your troop entertained, calm and cooperative.

Remember that one of the best things about family road trips is the opportunity to connect with your kids. Think about the memories of trips you have from childhood. What did you enjoy? Did you sing songs or tell stories together? Was there a special tradition for trips you want to continue? What would you like your children to remember from this trip?

You could consider:

  • Looking into some games you could play as you’re driving. “I Spy” or “Road Trip Bingo” are great options. For a fun list of game ideas click here.
  • Keeping a snack bag in the front seat with you to dish out as needed. Crackers in a baggie, yogurt or fruit pouches, or baggies of dry cereal make great snack options on the go. If possible, keep sugary foods and drinks to a minimum, as they tend to cause cases of the “grumpies.
  • Listening to audiobooks as you drive. The Eugene Public Library is a good place to check out audiobooks, such as the Harry Potter series. They even have audiobooks on mp3 if your car doesn’t have a CD player.
  • Planning places along your route to stop and get out of the car. Playgrounds, parks and children’s museums are good places to burn off extra energy.

If you have a child that gets motion sick in the car, having ginger ale and saltines may ease the nausea. Let them sit by a window so they can have fresh air on their face. You may also want to talk to your pediatrician about possible medical and alternative options.

Keep the Good Vibes Going

Children love positive attention. Let them know that you see how hard they are working to follow your travel rules and praise them when they share nicely with their brother, ask for a snack politely, use their quiet voice, etc.

Watch for signs of boredom or clues that your child is done with an activity, and suggest a change. Help them to recognize signs they might need to change what they are doing. Give them words for their feelings to reduce frustration.

It’s tricky to manage challenging behavior in the car while driving. Many parents find it helpful to figure out before your trip how you are going to handle misbehavior. Does “quiet time” work well for your child, or does taking away a favorite toy for a set amount of time work better? Discuss with your child the consequence for not following your travel rules well ahead of your trip. It might be helpful to put it into practice by planning a series of short trips and build up to longer trips as your child learns to follow the rules of the car.

If, while traveling, the situation becomes too stressful, find a safe place to pull over and address the problem. Tell your child why you are stopping, then ask them to sit quietly for 2 minutes. After much time, continue your car ride.

Happy Travelers

We can’t always predict how are children are going to behave in the car. But there are simple things we can do to make our job as parents a little easier:

  • Bring wet naps or cloths for sticky hands and messes.
  • Have easy-to-access clothes for spills or accidents.
  • Have a parent sit in the backseat with the children to read books or play games.

Before You Hit the Road

You can have your children’s car seats inspected by appointment, Mondays and Wednesdays, or during upcoming car seat clinics at Parenting Now! at 86 Centennial Loop. A Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician will make sure your child is in the appropriate seat for their age and weight, as well as make sure it is properly installed. Call 541-484-5316 for appointments; the next clinic is on August 24 from 4 pm to 7 pm.


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at

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