Many parents would not consider going anywhere in the car unless their children bring the entire contents of their toy box with them in the hope that this will keep them entertained and occupied during the trip.
However, this can be a mistake with potentially disastrous consequences due to the distraction it can cause as parents try to focus on driving, as I was about to discover.
I must say that I never went down the road of toys in cars, believing that children should be able to entertain themselves on trips simply by looking out the window. As they grew up, there were many games to play with them, such as ‘first to see a red car’. The games developed, as they do, reaching the dizzying heights of ‘I-Spy’, for example, or many other memory games.
I felt the need to test my rule. Did I do the right thing by keeping the toys out of the car, or were some of them worth it?
There are many toys on the market designed to keep children busy on car trips. They tend to be small, compact; designed to fit easily into a backpack.
Be careful because some can be so downright annoying that they will just drive you into a corner. For example, Tomy’s rock guitar that appears in ‘Top Gear’. Small, discreet, one thinks he is harmless. Incorrect! After five minutes, I was ready to throw it out the window, because the music was loud, irritating, and completely distracting me, the driver.
So the next step was Nintendo, which my kids love so much. Once again, even with the sound low, I could hear that piercing, horrible noise that drove me insane and back, along with their cries of frustration as they get hit, again. So that, too, was ruined amid the anguished cries of the children.
“I’m doing an experiment” I tried to calm them down as tears streamed down their faces. “Bad mommy” was all I could hear.
So while my son was fuming, my daughter brought out her toy horses with various little accessories to comb their manes, change the horseshoes, etc. The problem here was that there were so many tiny parts that it dropped not one, but most of them in a short space of time. As I refused (obviously) to let her pick up these little pieces, as it meant she had to take off her seatbelt and leave her seat, she soon lost interest in the whole lot. She started sulking and then teasing her brother, who was still in a bad mood because his Nintendo had been scrapped. Boring punctures soon led to a full blown fight with me trying to referee while driving. Not exactly a safe position to be in, I assure you.
Needless to say, this experiment was short-lived as I was very distracted by their cries of dismay when something went wrong with the toys they were playing with.
At the end of the day, I would advise all parents to try to avoid having toys in the car altogether. Set the rules on day one before you create a bar for your back. There is nothing worse than a child screaming because they have dropped a stuffed toy, or any other toy. The parents’ reaction is to immediately turn around to see what the problem is, taking their eyes off the road, which is obviously very dangerous and can end in disaster. So that? A smooth, multi-colored caterpillar with many irritating rattles.
Keep the car a toy-free zone.
Top tips for keeping kids busy in the car:
– ‘I spy’
– Memory games like ‘I went to the supermarket and bought…’ (list the items in alphabetical order, each person must remember the list in order and add an item).
– Show them the Highway Code signs and ask them to point to similar ones, or ask them what they think they mean in the picture. Educational as well as fun.
– Make a word of the license plate of the car ahead: don’t drive too close, obviously!
– Start a story. Each person takes turns adding a line to the story and watching it unfold. It can be a lot of fun.
– Multiplication tables practice! Unfortunately short-lived!
– Describe objects. Feed their imagination and develop their creativity and vocabulary skills.
– Speak. You are all stuck with each other’s company. Make the most of it: It’s a great time to bond with the kids. Talk about school, friends, whatever…
If the children become rebellious
– Find a safe place to stop and refuse to move until they are quiet.
– Don’t let the storm form. Once you feel the tension, tell them you intend to stop unless they calm down.
– Never travel more than two hours without rest. Firstly, you as a driver need one, secondly, the kids need to get out and run around a bit.
– Distraction is a great outlet. Quickly engage them in one of the games mentioned above.
– Never lose your cool. The children will copy and the situation will get out of control. If you feel close to this dangerous level, find a place to stop for a while. Do not continue your journey until you are completely serene.