published Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Tips for keeping kids happy during long car trips

KAREN NAZOR HILL: I had forgotten what it was like traveling with small children until last week when my husband and I took our daughter and two young granddaughters to Panama City Beach, Fla. I planned well for the trip, I thought. I packed a portable DVD player with my 4-year-old granddaughter’s favorite movies, as well as two new movies, new pink earphones, a new box of Crayons, a pad of drawing paper, two new coloring books, a lap desk to make coloring easy for her and a few of her favorite toys. (Her mom packed the snacks.)

For the 1-year-old granddaughter, her mother and I packed her favorite small toys. Though both children are in car seats, the 1-year-old’s car seat is like a straitjacket. Despite the well-thought-out planning, there was one thing I had not thought about — how do you explain distance and time to a 4-year-old? After one hour on the road, I started counting the 4-year-old’s ongoing question, ‘Are we there yet?’ Five hours later, she was up to 52. And, of course, we still weren’t there yet.

MARK KENNEDY: I have a 4-year-old son who also will wear you out on a car trip with the question: “When will we be there?” We’ve had some luck tying time units to television. If you tell him it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive to his grandfather’s house, he’s clueless. But if I say “it’s one ‘Toy Story 3’ and one ‘Fireman Sam,’” he totally gets it. It’s magic.

My younger son and his 9-year-old brother are classic back-seat bickerers. They can manufacture an argument out of thin air — a silly face, an accidental touch, anything. Meanwhile, I’m becoming a cliché, that dad who says sternly, “Don’t make me pull this car over!”

KAREN: Putting “Are we there yet?” aside, my girls were exceptionally good travelers. And, honestly, I think it’s because my daughter and I took turns sitting in the back seat with them. They loved the company. We were there to easily change the movies in the DVD player, get out the paper and crayons, fix the snacks, and, most importantly, give them our undivided attention.

Because of the size of the car seats, the adult only had room to sit next to a door, so my 4-year-old opted to sit in the middle. She’s a snuggler, so it was convenient — and fun — to give her kisses and comfort her when she was restless. The 1-year-old was extremely content to be able to reach out and grab her sister or play peek-a-boo with me. We stopped every few hours so the girls could stretch and run around for a few minutes. Sure, it extended the length of the trip, but being confined in a car seat can be very frustrating.

MARK: Earlier this year we were considering a family car trip to Colorado. Then, one day I told my wife we were asking for trouble. “We can’t even drive to McDonald’s without them fighting,” I said. “How are we going to spend 10 days on the road together.” Long story short, we changed plan. Our new vacation plan does not require car travel.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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