Counseling Corner: Making that car trip with kids less stressful

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Summer family vacations are fun, unless you count that part about driving to the vacation destination with a backseat filled with one or more unhappy kids.

Children can possess a great sense of anticipation but often a low level of patience. An upcoming beach vacation has them excited, but the all-day drive to get there not so much.

With a little planning and preparation, however, even a long car trip can be made more enjoyable, and certainly less stressful, for kids and parents.

An important first step? Have your car ready for the trip. Get your oil, air conditioning and tires checked before heading off. Broken down by the hot roadside is stress producing for everyone.

Next, think entertainment. Put together a package with favorite and new books, magazines, video games, downloaded movies and music. Have the right electronics, and the needed car chargers, so those entertainment choices help the miles go by. Dole out the entertainment items one at a time. And donít turn the whole trip into an electronic cocoon. Family talking, bantering, even mild arguing, is all part of creating the nostalgia of a family road trip.

Itís also important to remember that kidsí time-to-eat schedules are not going to be the same as yours. The fact that you stopped for lunch only 2 hours ago doesnít mean your backseat buddies arenít starving. Pack a collection of small containers of healthy and filling treats. Skip the high-sugar, high-fat snacks and the resultant sugar high and crash they often produce.

And yes, the kids can sometimes look out the window. Get a road map (yes, they still make them) and mark out the route to your destination. Every once in awhile, get the kids to trace the route, locate where they currently are, and see if they can find something worth seeing up ahead.

If something seems interesting, try actually stopping and seeing it. Make the trip not just getting to a destination, but about things along the way. A scenic overlook, a whacky museum, just a small town with a great local ice cream spot. An occasional stop might add travel time, but it gives the kids a chance for some exercise and can often be an unexpectedly fun experience for the whole family.

Making the drive an interesting part of the vacation can actually reduce stress for both parents and kids, and add to everyoneís enjoyment.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit www.counseling.org.

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