By Penny Powell
Entertaining Baby on a long car trip can help make everyone’s trip that much better. But what can parents do to help their infants survive family time on the road? Try these tested tips from parents to help make your next road trip easier.
Amy Upton, a Virginia Beach, Va., high school guidance counselor and mom of four children ranging in age from 2 to 15, knows all too well the challenges that come with traveling by car with children in tow. “I have taken way more long car trips with my children than I believe any sane person should,” says Upton. “With that said, what are the tricks that have worked with babies a year old or younger? Well, the best one is their siblings – they love to entertain their baby brother or sister.”
The calming effect music has on children is no secret.
Christine Hill, a Jacksonville, Fla., mom to Joey, 16 months, Christopher, 10, and Emily, 13, agrees with Upton. “One sure game that stops his [Joey’s] fussing every time is good old-fashioned peek-a-boo,” says Hill. “Emily holds up a blanket in front of her face and then drops it and he laughs every time. Of course, she’s very animated and that helps.”
“If you are not lucky enough to have a bunch of children to help you or you are traveling alone with a baby, bringing an ample supply of toys helps, but they will eventually be dropped, and it is not a good idea to pick up dropped toys in the back seat while driving,” says Upton. “The best way is to get toys that attach to the seat.”
Hill also knows the benefit of using toys during car rides, but she prefers to bring along ones that her son has not yet seen. “I find that buying a new toy and waiting to introduce it until the middle of the drive – or sooner if his screaming reaches a certain pitch – works really well,” she says.
The calming effect music has on children is no secret. “Any type will work, but kids’ songs played on the CD or tape player will often help entertain your baby,” says Upton.
Once the CD or tape player has served its purpose, try a singing game with your child. Pick a favorite family song and let your baby listen to each traveler take a turn singing a part of the song. The voice changes may just hold Baby’s attention for a little longer. Of course, the more animated the voice, the better!
Rhonda Biroschik of Middleburg, Fla., who is gearing up for an 18-hour road trip to Arkansas this summer with her family, says it was the “ABC” song that she sung along with her 9-year-old son that recently comforted her baby during a car ride. The song worked like a charm for her other child who is known to deeply dislike her car seat.
Make a tape of your baby’s favorite songs and be ready to press the start button on the music player when the fussing begins.
Colorful images and sounds from a DVD may help, too. “Of course, once they get a little older and face forward, occasional playing of ‘The Wiggles’ on a portable DVD player helps,” says Upton. “When I traveled with Robbie [at 17 months] last October to and from New Jersey by myself, this is the only way we made it. Prior to this, he would not watch anything for more than about two minutes, and he’s still not much of a TV baby. If he can, he’s got much better things to do.”
Hill takes advantage of the power of the human eye during car trips. “I think that with all of today’s technology and gadgets, it’s the simplicity of eye-to-eye interaction that works best,” she says. If possible, arrange for yourself or someone else to sit in the back seat with your baby so that the eye-to-eye interaction can take place.
Or, if you and Baby are traveling alone, try the looking game! “A mirror on the seat always helps, as babies this age must face backwards and otherwise cannot see you,” says Upton.
“Having taken several trips with Joey, including our 12-hour drive home from the mountains when he was 10 months old, my best advice to any parent would be the shorter the trip, the better,” says Hill. “I don’t think Joey is unique in his dislike for being strapped into his car seat for any length of time. We had to stop every few hours for a diaper change and stretching.”
“My final suggestion is to go to bed very early and wake up in the middle of the night and drive,” says Upton. “Taking advantage of times the baby/child sleeps is always a great way to knock out a chunk of your trip without the baby even being aware that this traveling thing is boring.”
Because those car trips can become quite boring for babies, Martin Simenc, president of Home Safety Services, Inc., in Foster City, Calif., says “at one point or another, nearly all toddlers will demonstrate their independence by inappropriately removing themselves from their car seat.” Simenc strongly suggests not turning this into a game but instead urges parents to take control of this situation immediately.
As a means of keeping your child restrained in the seat, Simenc says he does “not recommend adding any after-market or homemade additional latches or covers to prevent him from unlatching himself. These devices will either not be effective for long or they could cause injury in the event of a crash or they could prevent fast removal in the event of an emergency. A better approach is to teach your child safe car travel habits.”
So, whatever means of entertainment you create and use to alleviate car seat boredom, be sure to always play it safe! Happy travels!