So you think a four-hour car trip with you, your husband, and a toddler will be no big deal? Well, maybe it won't be, as long as you don't mind trying to explain to a bored child why she can't get out of her seat and roam around the car, or attempting to keep him from throwing his binky out the window, or singing "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands" 50 times in a row.
Don't kid yourself, traveling with toddlers is tough and requires a little extra preparation if you want the trip to go smoothly. Unless, of course, you have one of those perfectly behaved children who will look at picture books or sleep the whole time. In that case, the rest of us less lucky moms will now shun you and continue reading this article. Here are five things you can do to entertain your toddler on an interminable car trip.
1. Break out the healthy snacks.
Bringing snacks on a car trip might be a no-brainer, but the key word here is "healthy." Sure, your child might like cookies and candy better than Cheerios and water, but the momentary silence in the backseat will not make up for the next hour of sugar-energy your child will suddenly be endowed with. Keep snacks simple and healthy and you're less likely to have a carsick child, as well.
2. Bring children's music.
Take the time to pick out a few CDs or download some music onto your portable music device that will appeal to your child. That way you won't be stuck reciting songs from memory or coming up with new ones on the fly. Choose songs with actions and you can do them along with your child. If you think of this far enough ahead, you can familiarize your child with the songs a week or two prior to the trip so she's more excited when she hears them in the car.
3. Install a mirror.
If your child is still in a rear-facing seat, a mirror is a must. You can buy shatter-proof mirrors designed specifically for this at Walmart or ToysRUs. The mirror straps onto the back headrest and allows you to see what your child is up to without climbing clear into the back seat. After a few days of having it installed, my son realized he could see me in the mirror, too, and now we enjoy making faces at each other or playing peekaboo on long car trips.
4. Make time for breaks.
Car trips with toddlers aren't races. Anything longer than two or three hours will definitely need a break scheduled into it. This will let your child stretch his legs and give you a chance to change his diaper and maybe get a few snacks at a gas station (stay healthy, remember). If you're traveling along a scenic road, maybe take time to stop at a historic site or scenic overlook and take some pictures.
When all else fails, sometimes the only solution is for you to sit in the back with your toddler. If you pack for a long trip, remember to figure in some space for you to sit if your child is completely distraught and you must keep driving. Pull into a rest stop before trading seats and be prepared with some toys or activities to help create distractions. Bring along a portable DVD player or download a kid-friendly movie or a couple of apps on a portable device before you leave, and both you and your child could be entertained together.
Long car trips will seldom be painless with a toddler on board, but you can make them more fun if you're adequately prepared. Your toddler won't remember these specific trips in the future, but he or she will soon learn to associate them with fun family together time.