Thursday, September 23, 2010

Driven to Distraction

Our mission at Whole Hearted Parenting is to assist parents in creating peace at home. A few days ago a mom who had scheduled a coaching session asked a follow-up question about redirecting children while in the car. What a great topic! Everything happening in the car seems somehow magnified. The distractions of children who might be fighting, continually requesting your help or making demands can be unnerving and unsafe. Here are a few suggestions for creating peace in your car.

Have a conversation at home with your children about safety in the car. Let them know how important it is for you to be able to focus without distractions while you drive and that they are your safety team, helping you to keep everyone safe. Request that they ask only once for something (rather than the barrage of “Mommy, mommy, mommy”) and that they handle things themselves. For instance, if you child has something he needs to use or play with while in the car, it is his job – if it is age appropriate – to place it within reachable distance when he gets in rather than depend on the driver of the car to retrieve it for him. The driver's job is to drive.

Ask your child to create a verbal or physical signal so that you can let him know that you feel distracted. Examples are the words “focus” or “OM” or the peace sign. It could also be some very calming music that you play. It could be a song that you sing. Let your children know that if you are distracted, you will pull over and stop to be safe.

If your children are fighting or out of control or your feel distracted while you are driving, first give them the signal. For instance, firmly say, “Focus!” Put on your calming music or begin to sing the chosen song. If the behavior persists, calmly pull over to a safe place and park the car. One mom got out of the car and sat on the hood until her children calmed down.

A friend tells the story of driving her children and their cousins to Orlando for a trip to one of the “worlds.” While driving out of town, they began arguing over which “world” they would visit. The arguing got heated. She safely exited the turnpike, parked the car and calmly said, “I am willing to take you to any of the theme parks that you choose to visit. I am not willing to listen to the arguing any longer. You have ten minutes to reach a decision on which park you wish to visit.” As she stepped out of the car to let them have privacy to negotiate, she overheard her son say, “And she means it!” This is a mom who sets clear limits and followed through.

The more you successfully redirect the fighting, rivalry, power struggles and attention-seeking at home, the less often you will experience it in the car.

Hunger and fatigue are triggers for power struggles and meltdowns, so it pays to have snacks in the car as well as a comforting pillow or blanket. After school, when blood sugar is low and kids are tired, and long trips are times to have these supplies on hand.

You might also wish to declare your car a “peace zone (PZ).” Be clear that negotiating, helpfulness, gentle touch, honoring a sibling’s personal space and a respectful tone of voice are all part of the PZ.

Peaceful driving!

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