Friday, October 2, 2009

Please, don't drug the kids!

Last week a Facebook friend posted a question about how to keep a toddler occupied and happy on a long road trip. A few of the responses were startling, but not at all surprising.

Two of the comments to the post recommended using Benadryl to sedate the child to ensure a peaceful journey. Another person suggested sugary snacks. And another gushed over the fact that their kid didn't make a peep the whole way because he had a DVD player with headphones to pacify him.

We travel thousands of miles every year with our five and two-year-old. The girls have been on the go since birth, and we've never had to resort to drugging them to keep things sane.

Think about this: How often do you get uninterrupted time in the same space with your kids? Think of the possibilities! You can actually talk to them and laugh with them and play games and sing and learn something about their personalities. This is a great "teaching moment".

Make a space in the back for one parent to comfortably sit with the kids. And you don't need to sit there the whole trip, but every once in a while climb back there and read. Sing. Color. Perform puppet shows. Play games. Ask them lots of questions. This may sound exhausting, and it is. But who said parenting should be a spec
tator sport?

And think about the memories you are creating. Do you think 20 years from now your kid is going to say, "I remember that trip to grandma's when I was five. That was the 23rd time I watched 'Little Mermaid'. I'll never forget it!"?

Things aren't always easy going, but here are a few other tips we've learned in the last five years that have worked for us:

Kids adapt to whatever schedule you adopt. Ease them into a long road trip by gett
ing them used to being in the car for extended stretches. Weeks before your big journey, take them on a couple hour-long drives in the country -- make them outings to a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard.

Break the trip into two hour chunks (unless they're sleeping, then plow ahead!). Stop every 90 minutes or so for a bathroom break. Stretch your legs. And realize that a seven-hour Map-Quested journey will take closer to nine. And give up the dream that you can make the kind of time you did when you were 20 and flying solo and peeing in a cup.

Offer healthy snacks. And I don't mean chips and pretzels -- those are carb heavy and quickly metabolize into sugar. Pumping a kid full of sugar and strapping them into a car seat for a couple of hours is child abuse. I'm befuddled by the parents who do this and then don't understand why their kid is cranky and can't sit still. "She ate a whole bag of Skittles! She should be happy." Balance carbs with protein like nuts and cheese and organic yogurt (no high fructose corn syrup, please!). Leave the candy and soda on the shelf at the store. Bring fruit instead.

Limit the video pacifier! You don't need it, really.
Kids are pretty resourceful and can learn to entertain themselves -- but it takes you to teach them how. OK, I admit we have a portable DVD player. We went three years without one and then sparingly introduced it when we were gifted one. On long days (five hours or more) we limit viewing to one DVD. On short trips under three hours, we don't use it.

Take care of yourself. If you're rested and well-fed, you're happy. And so the kids will be, too. When you're getting bleary-eyed, a roadside break and a brisk walk is better than a latte in the long run.

I'll blabber about this topic more, I'm sure. Please send your ideas about what works for healthy and happy road trips.


Anonymous said...

Good conversation, but remember that not all kids are perfect, like yours are. Out of my three, one is an awful car rider...always has been, always will be. What works for your family is great, but please do not tell me that your way is the best. You do not know my children, and I must do what works for my family.
Stick to is what you do best.

andrea said...

My mom used to bring little things for us that she held on to and let us open every hour or so, picture books, coloring pages, ball mazes, small surprises are something to look forward to and keep kids entertained.

GBK Gwyneth said...

Yes yes yes. Books on CD (and music of course) that we all listen to together are a big hit for my kids. Nuts are favorites for car food. The girls do now have Nintendo DSes, but we limit the use to short spurts when we are on 5+ hour trips.

And carschooling! The girls get so much work done in the car....