You know those lists about the most traumatic events in life? Moving house, death divorce… With every passing public holiday it is becoming increasingly clear to me that whoever wrote them has never travelled in a car with kids for more than two hours on a bank holiday.
This year (and, who am I kidding, probably every year henceforth until they leave home/we win the lottery/we find a way to monetise them that doesn’t involve having to give birth twice more for the sole purpose of creating the world’s shortest and creepiest barbershop quartet) we’ll be holidaying in the UK. To Norfolk and the parents-in-law for Easter, to a friend’s aunt’s place in Devon in the summer.
So the news that 96% of parents have at some point been unable to concentrate on the job in hand – i.e driving, actually keeping everyone on the road and, crucially, alive – because of the noise their kids are making doesn’t surprise me. The figure comes from a survey by Motors.co.uk called Driven to Distraction. And while I admire their optimistic attempt to pun their way out of a sombre situation, if you’re likely to spend every holiday for the next eighteen years staring at a bumper sticker somewhere on the M25, it’s not the sort of reading that leaves you whistling ‘we’re all going on a summer holiday’.
They are at least decent enough to leave you with some strategies for tackling the worst offenders – take regular breaks to avoid car sickness, or take handheld devices away from the particularly puke-prone child as they exacerbate motion sickness.
And, apparently, handing kids a tablet computer or handheld device is now almost twice as popular as the old-time car classic I Spy. I know, I know. Uggg. But desperate times call for desperate measures and I’m not averse to using iPad hypnosis in moments of need. There are some good apps for toddlers that you can download for free, too.
I’ve been thinking, though, of other free ways to distract kids in cars. So here, in time for Easter, are my favourites. Tried and tested by the shortest attention span ever held by a three year old.
Scavenger hunt – draw (or steal from google images) pictures of things your kids are likely to be able to spot out of the car window (pylons, articulated lorries, petrol stations, tail backs, AA vehicles… the beautiful scenery that characteristically marks the great British car journey) Put these images onto one sheet of paper for them to tick off as they spot them. The first to tick off all the objects is the winner.
Snacks – these are, of course, essential. But not just any snacks. Pick ones with as little capability as possible to smear, crumble or leave sticky residue. Otherwise your car seat will look like a crime scene for the rest of time.
Avoid the croissant like the plague. The humble carrot stick is your friend, or homemade popcorn. We also make smoothies and stick them in some REVOLUTIONARY reusable ‘ella’s kitchen’ style pouches that we were sent a month or so back (more on this later).
Don’t, whatever you do, present them all at once. Hold them back and whip them out triumphantly one by one as each desperate moment arises.
Drinks – non-spill cups. Not too much sugar – EXTREEEEEEMELY watered down juice if your kid insists he is “too grown up” for water (ahem…) And not too much of ANYTHING if your next service station is over an hour away.
DIY story tapes - when Johnny turned three we got his nearest and dearest to record themselves reading their favourite children’s stories. The CD we put them onto is now a firm car-journey favourite. But for future, particularly tortuous-looking journeys, I’m going to make new ones and simply record them on the voice memo app on my phone.
The cloud game - what shapes can you spot in the sky? Warning: this game has the tendency to get Freudian with cloud-objects becoming increasingly murderous in direct correlation with the length of time spent in a cramped car with your family. On previous journeys of 3 hours and more we have spotted axes, tanks and swords.
Shoebox surprises - the trouble with kids is they simply cannot be trusted not to drop things. And the thing about a) car seats and b) motorway driving and c) cars in general and d) the pitch of toddlers voices is that a) make it impossible for kids to reach the stuff dropped into the inconceivably tiny crevices of c) while b) means you really shouldn’t help but d) means you’ll probably try nonetheless otherwise you will go crazy at the wheel.
Solution? Take the lid off a shoebox and draw a dolls house/small town/racing track/whatever-landscape your-kid’s-into on the inside. Then supply relevant small toys (mini cars, mini people…) from the kids’ collections at home. The toys are played with inside the box. No spillages. Fewer nervous breakdowns from everyone.
My favourite tactic, though, is sill this, from mumsnet’s advice on travelling with kids: