How do you keep children happy in the car?

James Mills
Written by: James Mills
Posted on: 12 November 2015

A little bit of preparation can go a long way to easing the monotony of a long journey in the car. Try these simple tips to keep passengers young and old alike entertained on the road.

Prevent travel sickness

The first rule of keeping children happy in cars is to stop them feeling ill. Travel sickness is a common complaint from kids who have to sit in the back and typically can’t see the road ahead. Many parents invest in wrist bands designed to prevent nausea. Others use homeopathic remedies, such as Nelsons Trevella tablets.

Colouring books are the latest craze

The popularity of colouring books has exploded this year, after titles by Joanna Basford, a Scottish illustrator, shot to the top of bestseller lists around the world.

More than 10 million have been sold to date, with adults as enchanted as children by their decorative designs. So why not agree with the kids that a set of coloured pencils and some colouring books will be kept in the car, ready to see off boredom at the turn of a page and stroke of a pencil?

Scene from Back to the Future 2

Scene from Back to the Future 2

Feed the beasts

Thirsty and hungry children are irritable children. So pack some healthy snacks and bottles of water to keep them topped up until you reach Grandma’s house and her legendary Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Give them their personal sound system

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

One solution is to let them use your smartphone to play music through headphones. Another is to invest in a simple music player, like an iPod Shuffle. But for serious bragging rights, why not try out a child’s car seat that features speakers in the headrest which connect to an MP3 player? For example, the Recaro Monza Nova 2 high back booster seat with Isofix has won plenty of awards. Although it’s not cheap (£127) it does fit children from three up to 12-years old.

Scene from Back to the Future 2

Scene from Back to the Future 2

Tune in to an in-car DVD player

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 be mounted safely and securely in the car and come with multiple headphone sockets, slots for USB sticks and SD memory cards, and work with wireless headphones.

Make the most of catch-up TV

Smartphone apps from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 allow users to view past content for free. But the BBC and Channel 4 apps are notable for allowing that content to be downloaded, so it can be viewed without an internet connection or 3G/4G phone signal - ideal for when you hit the road. And with the BBC’s wide range of child-friendly content, there’s bound to be something that young ones will enjoy.

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

Get lo-fi and play 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 on car bingo. The simplest is to have one passenger spotting Fords and another Vauxhalls. The first to 10, 50 or 100 wins. A more complicated version, involving different lists for passengers 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 then 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 encouraging them to navigate by using a road atlas and reading road signs. It’s a good way to start preparing them to be drivers themselves.

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