Direct Line magazine

How to keep children happy in the car

Updated on: 11 July 2024

three children play in the backseat of a car

A little preparation can go a long way to easing the monotony of a long car journey. Try these practical tips to keep your pint-sized passengers entertained when on the road.

Prevent travel sickness

The first rule of keeping children happy in the car is to stop them feeling ill. Travel sickness is a common complaint from kids who sit in the back and typically can’t see the road ahead. The NHS recommends plenty of fresh air, distraction techniques and breaking up long journeys.

Pharmacies offer a range of travel sickness remedies, including tablets, patches and acupressure bands.

If you have a child who suffers from travel sickness, it’s recommended you don’t allow them to read, watch films or use electronic devices in the car as this can trigger sickness.

Colouring and activity books

Long before adults reclaimed colouring books as an acceptable way to pass the time, children loved filling in between the lines. Shops are full with all kinds of character-based activity books, offering colouring, drawing, puzzles, stickers and more.

Be sure you have an ample supply of pencils and crayons. Felt tips are best avoided when in the car.

Keep them fed and watered

We all get a little irritable when hunger hits, so the last thing you want is a bunch of hungry kids in the back of your car. On short journeys you can make sure they’ve had a snack or meal before travelling, but longer trips might require planned feeding breaks.

You should park up to feed toddlers and babies in order to avoid the risk of choking. You’ll likely need to make toilet stops too, so you can also use these opportunities to grab some food.

Give them personal sound systems

Forcing kids to listen to Fleetwood Mac when they’d rather be singing along to the hits from Disney’s Frozen is just plain mean.

If you can’t bear hours of Disney tunes, nursery rhymes or tween pop, one solution is to kit out the kids with headphones and music players. This way the kids get to listen to whatever they want, and you regain control of the car stereo.

In-car cinema experience

For longer journeys, an in-car DVD player can be a blessing for parents and children alike. The best systems will have been designed to mount safely and securely in the car and include multiple headphone sockets.

Make the most of streaming services

Be it via a smartphone or tablet, there are all kinds of streaming apps available with thousands of hours of content to keep kids happy.

There’s free catch-up services from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, plus premium viewing from Sky, Netflix, Amazon and Disney. The ability to download shows and films before you leave the house also means you won’t blitz your mobile data allowance and so you’ll avoid a hefty bill at the end of the month.

You don’t have to resort to expensive gadgets to keep the children happy

Play traditional car games

You don’t have to resort to expensive gadgets, games or books to keep the children happy during a road trip.

There are several variations of car bingo, the simplest is to have one passenger spotting Fords and another Vauxhalls. The first to 10, 50 or 100 wins. The advanced version involves different lists for passengers and includes more obscure cars and vehicles, different animals and roadside furniture. The first person to get a full house cries ‘Bingo!’

Alternatively, try the memory-challenging shopping game. One player says, “I went to the shops and I bought…” and then names an item. The next player repeats the opening phrase, the first player’s item and adds their item to the list. And on it goes.

Let them navigate

For older children, a little bit of responsibility can mean a great deal, so try and encourage them to navigate through the use of a road atlas and road signage. If navigation is tricky, letting them follow your route on a map can be great fun for a child.

Those opting for child-based navigation should consider a satnav which you can fall back on if needed.

Remember the little things

These are the things that don't often make the top of the list of things to remember, but can make a big difference.

Take blankets when it’s cold, and a handheld fan to cool down when it’s hot. A bored child is nothing compared to a bored child who's too hot!

Window shades will similarly prove invaluable if you find yourself on a stretch of road directly in the sun's glare.

Tissues and wet wipes are a must, and can stop a small spill becoming a big, sticky problem.

And finally, a couple of plastic carrier bags for rubbish and just in case of car sickness. You'll thank us later!

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