Three girls (6-8 years) sitting on rear seat of car on road trip

It’s hot and your family is heading for a fun vacation destination, but there’s still that long car ride that has to happen first. And no, a car with unhappy, complaining children isn’t the best way to get that vacation off to a great start.

While children usually get excited about the upcoming getaway, they also have a low level of patience and are easily bored sitting in a car. How to minimize the stress a car trip can bring for both parents and children?

Start by being prepared. Are the tires in good shape, the air conditioning working, oil levels checked and the gas tank full? Get it all done before loading the kids in the car and before risking a break down on a busy freeway.

When the trip starts, don’t give the children a chance to be bored. Assemble a package of books and magazines, favorite electronics and chargers, and downloaded music and movies that will keep the kiddos entertained. And no, don’t give them everything at once. Parcel out fun items over time to help break up the trip rather than having them run through it all in the first hour.

This doesn’t mean you let the kids bury themselves in their cellphones or portable video games the whole trip. Have regular breaks that get the kids talking. Get a road map or map book and let them find out where they currently are, some nearby attractions, and where they’re still heading.

Remember that kids need to eat, and often on a schedule that’s different from Mom and Dad’s. Pack a bag with small containers of healthy and filling snacks. Take time to stop for a quick lunch if the kids are really starving.

And begin with the goal of making the trip itself interesting. While it can be tempting to just push on to that destination, a better idea is to find some places for short stops, especially if it’s a long car trip. Five minutes at a scenic overlook, or a short visit to a small town and its local ice cream shop can help break up the travel and give everyone a chance to stretch and sometimes even discover something interesting.

Yes, you want to reach that destination, but make the ride an enjoyable part of the whole trip and you’ll add to everyone’s experience.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit www.counseling.org.

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