How to win the backseat wars with your kids

Kids say the strangest things. Don’t believe me? Click on the video.

Of course we’d never resort to threatening our kids in the car. Nuh-uh.

But redirection will only get you so far. And things can devolve so quickly into backseat anarchy where the hapless driver is rendered powerless in mediating disputes. What should you do?

We’ve tried a few things. Some work, some … not so much. One thing we’ve been able to do is find the restart to harmony button.

And it isn’t the threat of having to walk home. (Besides, our kids know that if you’re more than a mile away from home it’s really only lip service.)

Arrival by car at Hilton Orlando

I know you really want the reset button secret first, but indulge me. There are common things that lead up to the meltdowns and elbow fights we should talk about first. Here’s our assessment:

Why should I care? If you want you kids to behave you should show them that you’re paying attention. We developed a points game that tracks our kids’ behavior and credits them for good behavior. The points give them the right to choose: will I be good — or bad?

Who’s in charge? Our kids are control freaks. Everybody wants to be in charge. Even if it’s only over the songs we’ll play on the stereo, what game to play in the car, what to do at our pitstops or where we stop for lunch. We use the point system mentioned above to reward their good behavior and give them a sense of control during the journey. Other moms do a rotation so each child gets a chance to choose. Both work.

I’m bored! This is soooooo hard to handle. Just accept the fact that no matter what you plan and bring to keep the kids engaged, there will come a time when you’ll hear the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” It is important that you not offer any options as questions, for example, “Would you like to …?” Trust me, the answer will be, “Nothin’.” This is probably a combination of our next two bullet points. Instead of asking, tell them something about when they were little or when you were little. They’ll either fall asleep or beg for more. Win-win!

Nobody is paying attention to me! Well, duh! The driver is probably driving and the person riding shotgun is either gripping the door in fear or checking email. Just kidding. It’s easy to forget about the kids when they’re out of sight, quietly playing Minecraft. But it helps to occasionally give them a fist bump for being so good. The point system and the rotation of choice privileges work great when the kids are bored.

I’m uncomfortable. You made it to the reset button! See that wasn’t so bad. Here’s our never-fail, 100 percent, tried and true way to reset your kids behavior. Can you guess what it is?

Most often problems in the backseat (even those listed above) happen when the kids are uncomfortable. Sitting to long, not eating at regular intervals or eating the wrong foods, not having enough water is enough to turn your little angels into cranky, irrational, territorial elbow-swinging monsters. I’ve become very familiar with this animal over the last two years of road tripping.

Here’s what we do: Without threatening to make them walk home, we calmly pull over at the next available safe place. We get out of the car and move around, toss a ball or jump rope as a contest for choice privileges and drink some water. If the timing is right we’ll have a meal or healthy snack.

It works almost every time. Even if you’re running late it’s better to stop and reset so everybody is in a good mood when you arrive at your destination.

What do you do to reset sibling wars and the battle of the backseat?

Have you ever had to pull over the car because of a backseat war?

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Kari Haugeto

Kari is a serial entrepreneur with an education addiction and a profound curiosity that, more often then not, fuels some pretty incredible adventures. Currently her attention is focused on social and digital media technology and she is developing a project with her family of five and a variety of sponsors to share their cross-country adventures online in an interactive, socially responsible, educational and authentic manner.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ronald-Patrick-Marriott/1830794149 Ronald Patrick Marriott

    One way to stop most wars is misdirection…. creating a bigger conflict is not the answer but to bring attention to an issue of bigger concern. One is bribing with ice cream..allowance… or the favorite in my car is a game of memory… “Im going on a trip and packing in my bag” the story line is to remember each persons item as it goes in the bag… in order of placement. Each taking turns until one is left packing the bag. One misplaced memory puts this child on the roof of the car …better drive FAST!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/haugeto Kari Astrid Haugeto

      Awesome. I especially like the ice cream. We’re headed to Philadelphia next month and I’m sure we’ll use a few. Thanks!

  • andreshy

    he sent me a mesage or mqay be a giff becayuset the28 of may is may birthd dayyyy bbqayyyy

    • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

      Huh?