Are you dreading an upcoming road trip because you feel like the bickering between children is going to drive you crazy? Many parents feel this way about road trips! Some may bring electronics to keep their children entertained and others may not have such luxuries. Below are some tips to motivate children to have a peaceful road trip!

As wonderful and proactive as it is to have different activities for your children to play with during a road trip (Creative Car Games for Summer Road Journeys), it may not be enough to prevent the bickering and other potential problem behaviors. If your road trip is going to be, say 6 hours long, try setting expectations and use a reinforcement system throughout the trip to motivate positive behavior!

Begin by praising an appropriate behavior that your children engaged in the last time you went on a road trip. For example, “I loved the way that while we were driving during our last road trip, that you played the game I-spy together and had so much fun!” Next, clearly and specifically state what your expectations are for the road trip, before you even get into the car. Ensure that the expectations are developmentally appropriate and attainable, based on your children’s ages. For example, some expectations for children ages 3-7 may be: use gentle hands, use kind words, use an “inside” voice and share your items with one another. Examples of expectations for children who are a little bit older may be: use respectful words, use an inside voice, keep the volume of any electronics at low-level volume with/without headphones and respect each other’s personal space. It is important to specifically state what you would like your children’s behavior to be while on your road trip, even before the road trip even begins.

Next state to your children what the consequences will be for meeting and not meeting the expectations. For example, “At the end of each 30 minute time period, if you use gentle hands, use kind words, use an “inside” voice and share your items with one another then you will earn a point for each expectation met and a _______ (something tangible-novel edible treat, favorite toy for specific period of time, etc.) . If you do not use gentle hands, do not use kind words, do not use an “inside” voice and/or do not share your items with one another, then you will not earn a point for the specific expectation not met and not earn _____ (tangible item). Therefore, every 30 minutes you earn up to 4 points and a _______ (tangible item)! When we get to Grandma’s house, you will be able to trade in 4 points to get ice-cream at the ice-cream parlor down the street throughout our vacation!” Use whatever item or activity you feel will best motivate your child to meet the expectations throughout the road trip (a piece of candy after each time interval, the use of a preferred game with their electronics after each time interval, etc.). Subsequently, have your children repeat back to you the expectations and what they may earn for meeting the expectations or what they will not earn if they don’t meet the expectations.

Throughout the time intervals, it is imperative that you are praising your children for engaging in appropriate behaviors and especially for engaging in and meeting the expectations along the way. At the end of each time interval, review the expectations and provide the consequences as previously stated to your children, for meeting or not meeting the expectations. Try to stay positive when reviewing each expectation for each child. If the child meets the expectation then celebrate the success and praise them specifically for the appropriate behavior. If your child did not meet an expectation, then simply state that they did not meet the expectation and encourage your child to meet that expectation during the next time interval.

Younger children may be more successful if you have something in writing with pictures associated with each expectation (“I used gentle hands” with a picture of two children gently hugging, etc.), for them to be able to better define each expectation. For older children, a verbal agreement would most likely suffice but you may put it in writing if you feel it would benefit your child in the situation.

Happy and Safe Travels!!


Learn more about Setting Expectations at Tera Ester’s parent training, Positively Motivating Others.