011: [Q&A] Making the Most of Family Road Trips

20th March, 2019 Posted under Impressive

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Going on a car trip with the whole family on the holidays? A long journey might make the kids feel bored, thus having tantrums while being restrained on their car seat. This alone would make the ride in total chaos. With that said, this 11th episode of the Impressive, Q&A style, might be of help as Doctor Kimberley O’Brien answers the question of one of our listeners by giving tips on how to make the family dynamics normalised during the whole trip.

Listen as we provide answers for:

  • How often should we stop?
  • For how long should we stop?
  • And, where should we stop?

Enjoy the Episode

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About Impressive

Impressive is a weekly podcast that sheds a new light on the world of parenting. Join host, Dr Kimberley O’Brien PhD, as she delves into real-life parenting issues with CEOs, global ex-pats, entrepreneurs, celebrities, travellers and other hand-picked parents.

In an approachable on-air consultation style, she listens to some of the smartest, kindest parents share their latest parenting challenge with their incredible kids. Together they brainstorm solutions and Kimberley offer handy tips and valuable resources to help bring out the best in toddlers, teens and in-betweens. Drawing mostly on two decades of experience as a child psychologist, Kimberley also shares her personal insights as a mother of two and entrepreneur with a passion for problem-solving.


[00:00:08 – 00:01:09]: Doctor O’Brien brings up the topic of the episode where families can surely relate. And it is how to make these long, seemingly boring road trips a good one for the families who intend to go to faraway places during the holiday season.

Doctor Kimberley: Hello, I’m Doctor Kimberley O’Brien — a child psychologist, entrepreneur, and mom with a passion for problem-solving in family adventures. Join me each week for practical tips and on-air consultations with the smartest, kindest parents and their incredible kids. Find answers faster, do things differently, and take your family further. This is Impressive.

[00:00:30 – 00:00:33]: This episode is sponsored by BriteChild.com. Now, let’s get started.

Doctor Kimberley: This is episode 11 of Impressive. And this week we’re talking about car trips because in Australia, it’s the school holidays and a lot of families are going away and taking their kids on pre-loan car journeys. So, I thought it would be helpful to talk about how to make those journeys as good as they can be for the young people in your car, for the sanity of the parents, and to make sure the family dynamics stays as positive as possible over those long car journeys.

So, without further ado, let’s get started for episode 11 of Impressive.

[00:01:10 – 00:01:41] Adding to what Dr. O’Brien said is the question that came from one of the listeners who wanted to know how long should their daily travel time be for bringing their 6-year-old child along, although the listener noted that their destination’s 8 hours away from home. Then, Dr. Kimberley’s suggests that the trip to be broken in two days, four hours each day.

Doctor Kimberley: So, step one, when it comes to planning a long car trip is to think about it as a teaching and a learning opportunity for the young people in the car. So, a question that came through from one of our listeners via the support@quirkykid.com.au e-mail was this:

Q: How many hours of driving per day is reasonable for an active, 6-year-old boy? We’ve committed to a family gathering, eight hours drive away, and we’d like to make that journey in one day if possible.

Doctor Kimberley: So, it sounds to me like these parents are thinking about pushing through for an 8-hour journey. And when you think about it, kids aged six need about at minimum, 2-3 hours of play per day. So, is that possible that they will be on a stop or have breaks for 2-3 hours across an 8-hour journey? Probably not, unless they’re planning to get there really late at night. And I feel for the driver in this case. I think it would be best to break it into, into two days. So, do 4 hours drive on one day, and 4 hours the next. But I think for a 6-year-old boy, 6 hours drive would be the absolute max when it comes to expecting them to keep themselves entertained in the car and to stay restrained in the car seat.

[00:02:36 – 00:04:49] If in any case, the family would rather not waste any time, which makes it a lengthy journey, Dr. Kimberley finds it best that the family would take breaks. And to not spoil the mood of the kids, the parents should let them do activities before deciding to eat on a nearby restaurant. These activities would use up their energy, so then they’d behave when they go back in the car.

Doctor Kimberley: Now, if you are thinking of pushing through, and you really need to get from A to B because your days on holidays are limited, so you just need to draw it as a one off. How can you make it as positive as possible?

Well, thinking about what the kids would want to do on those breaks is really important. Here’s Mo to give his perspective on having a break on a long car trip.

Mo: What if your parents want you to eat a meal when you really, really want to run around?

Doctor Kimberley: Good point, Mo. Often, parents would take the opportunity to have a meal when they stop during a long car trip, but the kids are probably more interested in running around, especially if they’re being snacking throughout that journey. So, make sure you start with a possibility of some active play before you ask the kids to go and sit down in a restaurant. So, yeah, going to a park, doing some Tag or Tig, running around getting as much energy as possible before you encourage them to sit down again. Climbing trees, swinging for monkey bars, using as many muscles as they could possibly use within that short space of time is essential.

So, when you are choosing a place to stop on a long car trip, think about what your children can interact with. If there’s a park close by with a flying fox, or anything that releases interactive as possible, choose that location as oppose to just an open field because they also need to be stimulated. And a petrol station or a gas station is really not a great alternative, buying junk food as a reward for sitting still in the car for long periods of time—also not a great idea when it comes to kids been having a sugar rush and needing even more of an outlet for their physical energy. So, I’m thinking about way where you stop is key, and what you ask your kids to do during that stop is also of vital importance because you don’t want your young people to feel resentment about your choice of location where you’ll stop, or what you’ll insist on them doing during that stop because that frustration would then flow into the car trip and the hours ahead.

[00:04:50 – 00:06:11] Tip #2 is to do digital detoxification to avoid children’s meltdowns when you’re back on the road. Also, this could be a way to enjoy the whole ride and to encourage family communication.

Doctor Kimberley: Say, you’ve had a really great break and everyone’s feeling fresh and fed, and you’re back in the car. So, what can you do to entertain your children for a long car trip?

Well, step one, try to avoid screens because, you know, often arguments in cars are really just around screens, asking kids to turn off the screen, or kids nagging for more screen time. And if you can possibly avoid taking screens on holidays in the first place, I would highly recommend the digital detox because car journeys and travel are really great educational opportunities for families. You can ask kids to write in a journal or draw some pictures, or listen to an audiobook about the aerial wave going, or maybe some early explorers that have been there. Making it educational will really stimulate the whole family. You could also use music in the car to encourage kids to look out the window while listening to the music, or reading books, of course. But if you can avoid screens, please do so because a family on a holiday is a rare opportunity for most families. So, doing it different without screens is a really, kind of a great way to help to, you know, encourage family communication and a little bit more connection between family members.

[00:06:12 – 00:06:49] Another tip would be to choose no-sugar snacks for the kids, just not to stimulate the kids if ever they’re hungry. Dr. O’Brien also recommends for the kids to change seats to avoid sibling rivalry, and be stimulated by a change of view.

Doctor Kimberley: And now, the tip is to really consider the snacks that you’re having in the car. So, if possible, pay for no-sugar options like nuts, things that will sustain the kids about, or not give them huge rushes of energy. And another idea would is to take plenty of them and quite a lot of variety because when kids are bored, giving them a snack is definitely something that will increase their spirits or distract them if there’s some sibling rivalry. And switching seats is another great way to just change it up if, you know, if there’s some struggling between the siblings, then changing their order and the position of where they’re seated. If you can in your car, it’s also recommended just for a change of scene.

[00:06:50 – 00:08:09] And to conclude the episode, Dr. O’Brien reiterates that the family should take 15-20-minute breaks during the trip, just to keep the kids active. And also, they must always keep in mind to find ways to keep everyone in the car happy to arrive in their destination safe and sound.

Doctor Kimberley: And last, but not the least. Another tip when it comes to car trips is just around the frequency of the breaks. So, I would recommend definitely having a break every two hours if possible for, say, 15-20 minutes at minimum, so that you can keep those kids as active as possible. And if you do need to stop more often, then just do it because you may have a schedule you try to keep to and I understand that. But I think it’s really important to think about the family holiday from the child’s point-of-view and it’s not about having a cranky driver or frustrated co-pilot. It’s more about trying to make it as fun for the family as possible.

So, taking an extra 15-20 minute break for the greater good of the family is recommended because in the scheme of things, you want to arrive into your destination feeling fresh and just relaxed as possible to get your holidays started.

So, without further ado, I’m going to wrap up this episode. I wish you a safe car trip. If you’re going somewhere this holiday season, and if you’re not, then enjoy the comforts of your home. Happy New Year from the team at Impressive. I’m your host, Doctor Kimberley O’Brien, and this was Impressive.

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