Frankly, there is just no option in our car. When it comes to buckling in, there is no wiggle room, no room for negotiation, no complaining about it.
I know I make this sound easy, but it’s been our rule since they were born. They have never known any other way, and I think this is what’s made it easy for us. Now that they are older they understand why they need to be buckled in, but there was a time when we had to stop fairly frequently so they could run around and stretch their legs, tiring themselves out before being strapped to their chair again.
We have always had a large, puffy pillow in the car that we put in-between them on the back seat, so when they need to sleep they can lean over and put their head on the pillow, but remain buckled in. This has been a huge help and possibly the only way to keep them comfy while doing long drives. Travelling around the states when Lola was 4 and Lincoln was 3 meant they slept often on our long drives. This ensured they were comfy, but also helped in keeping them away from each other which, when confined in a small space, was necessary for a little ‘alone’ time.
The minute kids know there is an option to not be buckled in, they will use it, and work it, until they get what they want. It is the same in every scenario the children face. If they see there is an angle they can work, they will. If you erase the angle, they realise continual pushing is futile.
When it comes to keeping them happy, this is something every parent has to think on for their own kids. You know what makes your child tick, and what keeps them entertained, and it is usually not the same for each child in a family. When they are young, let them choose toys (under your supervision) that they can play with in the car. Do not let them choose toys that make noises, it will drive you mad! I have always found toys that can be used for make believe games (plastic animals or stuffed toys) to be the best, it gives them diversity to entertain themselves for hours. But that said, no toys have ever entertained my kids as long as a movie. Having an iPad or laptop handy has been hands down the best entertainment on long journeys. Have a couple of movies saved on the device so there is some option, it will amaze you how quickly they can tire of a movie and get bored if they’re in the wrong mood for it.
Another firm favourite when my kids were younger was colouring or work books. These kept them entertained for hours while in the back of the car. As they have gotten older they prefer drawing books, so they each have a bound, blank page drawing book which is theirs to draw in wherever we are. These work incredibly well in restaurants too. No two days are the same in a car, so if you are doing a long road trip make sure you have enough for them to do.
One standard I did everyday for our long drives in the States, and still do when taking a long trip, is pack the kids a lunchbox. I put a selection of healthy foods like nuts, dried fruit, biltong, crackers and cheese, and then a couple of treats too. I give them free reign to eat what they want when they want with the strict instructions that when the treats are finished there are no more. I encourage them to decide for themselves how much to eat and when, and giving them this freedom makes for a far more enjoyable car journey than listening to them whine about being hungry every ten minutes.
I consider us pretty seasoned travellers, having driven in excess of 30 000 km’s with them and flown between several countries. These tips are the tricks I have learned along the way. I hope at least some of them work for you. It’s not actually as hard as you imagine. Good luck!