This is the third in our “Dear Zipcar” series, where we take members’ questions, then tap into our employee knowledge base to share expertise. Got a city-living question of your own? Ask us in the comments below, and you just may see it in a future post.
Dear Zipcar, I don’t own a car, so I usually walk or bike with my kids. I’m going on my first solo car trip with them this weekend. How do I keep them occupied so I can focus on driving? - Mom on a Mission
The little daredevil behind the wheel. He’ll be here for real before we know it.
Hi Mom on a Mission,
I hear ya, sister. As the parent of a very active toddler, I’ve had to figure out how to keep him engaged in the backseat so I can stay focused in the front seat, too. To help other parents rule the driver’s seat, I’ve compiled a few helpful hints.
As with most things in parenthood, it’s 90% preparation, 10% perspiration (or 9% perspiration, 1% hand sanitizer). If you live in the city, check out our 5 secrets of kid-friendly city living. Once you’re in the car and on your way, follow the seven tips below to keep everyone happy—including you.
Please let us know how it goes! And everybody else, share your tales and secrets of success below. It takes a village to raise a child (especially an opinionated four-year-old).
The #1 and most important rule of driving: Get there safe! Did you know 73% of car seats are not installed correctly? (Of course you did, because you obsessively read articles about stuff like this on your cell phone in the middle of the night.) Finding the right car seat and making sure it is installed correctly is foremost on many a new parent’s mind. If you want to be extra cautious, in some towns you can bring your new car seat to the police station and have them teach you how to properly install it. Why the police are experts at child car seat installation is beyond me. I don’t see them teaching this at Police Academy (but then I’m only going by those Steve Guttenberg movies, which are probably not 100% accurate).
Once you’ve got the right car seat (installed by Steve Guttenberg), the second most crucial aspect of safe driving is YOU. Driving is serious business and you need all your faculties focused on the task at hand. If your child drops a toy while you’re going 60 mph on the highway, that toy is staying on the floor, tears or not. So keep your cool. Or pull over if it’s safe to do so. And if you’re late? Pull out the Kid Card—it trumps all other excuses for tardiness.
Protect that precious cargo! Follow all instructions to install the car seat correctly.
Tip #2:Milk The Novelty.
If you’re not a car-owning family and your kids aren’t used to being in a moving vehicle that goes faster than a bike trailer, then the novelty of riding in a Zipcar might distract them for a good little while. Let them hold the Zipcard, scan in, and listen for the doors unlocking (like magic!). Once inside, you can let them pretend to drive (no key in the ignition, of course) and move the steering wheel around—even honk the horn if your neighbors won’t mind. (Okay, once or twice, even if they do.)
Now the prelim is over, it’s time to strap that kid into his or her car seat, bust out the applesauce pouches, and get this show on the road.
Let your kid scan in, but keep your eye on the card. We found this one after releasing a search party.
Tip #3:Don’t Stab Your Eardrums With A Pencil.
Please tell me you haven’t driven for several hours while listening to the Disney Kids channel on Sirius? There’s a better way! There are a slew of actual, cool real musicians who are putting out kids’ music these days. If you’re not aware of these sanity-saving albums, you should be! They Might Be Giants, Jewel, Andre 3000 (shake it like a… rattle?), even Johnny Cash make music for kids. Admittedly, none of this will rock your socks off, but it is solidly listenable for the time period you and your precious offspring are the car. And while not everyone loves him, I am always up for a round of Down by the Bay, by Rafi. “Did you ever see a llama, wearing pink pajamas?” (You have to admit. That’s a hilarious image.)
If crayons and books don’t keep them busy, launch into a sing-a-long. Parenthood is not about looking cool.
Tip #4: Accept That Screen Time Is A Necessary Evil.
If you’re okay with the kids taking in a little screen time in the backseat (I am), then this organizer is a great way to hold an iPad and other diversionary items to keep kids busy. Get some kid-friendly headphones that cap the volume so as not to harm little ears. A word to the wise: Don’t let your kid hold a tablet in the backseat and watch a movie that way. I learned from experience that watching a screen while it’s bumping around can make a kid nauseous—not what you want in a car packed with all your stuff for a beach trip. Yeah, that seriously happened. Ah, parenthood. It’s a messy business.
Thank heaven for Pixar.
Tip #5: Converse With Your Kids.
As much as we joke about the kids driving us nuts in the car, it can be a special time to have your child’s undivided attention for however long the car trip lasts. (This may be even truer if you’ve got teenagers.) Ask your kids about whatever they are super excited about these days. I asked my toddler about his friend Kyle’s love of owls and discovered that my boy had developed an encyclopedic knowledge of raptors. “There are screech owls and barred owls—not barn owls. Everybody thinks it’s barn but it’s barred. With a D…” What a hoot! I had no idea this kid was such a bird nerd. The following summer we went to see a raptor exhibit at the zoo and he was thrilled. He was also an eagle for Halloween. It was so fun hearing about something he is so passionate about—and so cool that HE was teaching ME something I didn’t know. (I’ll tell him when he’s older that there are also barn owls. Why confuse the kid?)
Tip #6:Create A Masterpiece.
Okay, the wee one(s) have grown tired of movies, or you’re not fond of the idea of letting them watch 13 episodes of Curious George in a row... that may be a genie you can’t put back in the bottle. Here’s what to do: Pack a backpack just for the kiddo. They are usually pretty excited to carry it themselves—additional bonus for you. Inside the pack, put a Magna Doodle (the modern day Etch-A-Sketch), books they can flip through or the non-driving parent can read them, and paper and crayons. Add the power of suggestion from you: “Hey, how ‘bout you draw a picture of that boat we just saw?” and voila! Twenty minutes of silence! If a kid gets deep into an art project, time can fly by, and before you know it… “Hey, we’re at Nana’s house!” Bonus points: Take the drawing inside (with your child’s permission) as a gift for Grandma. Parenting double-win.
Kids love to express their creative sides. This piece is called “Fishing Lessons.”
Tip # 7: Go The Bleep To Sleep!
When all else fails, stop talking, keep quiet, turn the fan up to high for some white noise, and let the little cherub(s) get some sleep. Cars are powerful put-you-to-sleep machines. (Some parents rely daily on what my friend calls the “nap n’ drive” to get a cranky or colicky infant to sleep.) Somehow, as long as the car’s moving, the kid stays asleep. It’s kind of magical. Sometimes you can even pull up into the driveway and get some reading, texting, or even a nap of your own in. (Miracle of miracles.)
Marlon Brando here is playing the part of “sleeping child.”
Got great tips of your own? Share your city parent insights in the comments below.