Call me foolish but in a couple of weeks time I will be spending two days in a car travelling with my four children.
We are driving to the south of France and I am sure we will be joined on the road by thousands of other hot and bothered families. Why do we put ourselves through this torture of sharing a stuffy car for hour upon hour of monotonous motorway driving?
Certainly not for the fun of it. But there are lots of reasons why we to travel by car: firstly with four children the cost of air tickets is prohibitive; secondly, have you seen how much clobber small children require? The only way to transport it is in our enormous bus of a car. Thirdly, my husband fancies himself as a bit of a Lewis Hamilton and relishes the chance to take the car out on a 'bit of a run'.
The upshot of this is that our lovely holiday in sunny France will be sandwiched between two journeys from hell. Although at least this year the youngest children are our 18-month-old twins, Jonah and Zachary, I still shudder at the memory of driving our firstborn, Jacob, all the way to the Alps when he was just three months old.
I was a nervous first time mum, terrified of germs, foreign food and rescheduled nap times. The combination of filthy change stations, dirty high chairs and no familiar baby milk almost took me to the brink. My baby alternated from sleeping when he shouldn't to screaming at the top of his lungs while my husband cursed the tailbacks leading up the precipitous mountain roads.
If it weren't for the reasons I listed above I would have sworn 'Never again'. As it is over the years I have developed coping strategies that help me to deal with the combination of long car journeys and children. The most successful so far is the in-car DVD player.
As Allsion Mitchell, founder of MumCoach.com, points out: "With slightly older children if you tell them they can watch DVDs for hours they are in heaven". Well it certainly works for Jacob, 6, and Max, 4. From the moment we strap the screens on the back of the seat in front silence reigns supreme as they are entertained by everyone from Luke Skywalker to Bob the Builder.
Electronic entertainment certainly seems to be the name of the game with older children. "My two borrow our iPod Touches and play games on those and the older one has audiobooks downloaded on them to listen to as well", explains Nell. While other mums hand over Nintendo DS consoles to keep the peace.
But when that fails other parents have come up with some more imaginative strategies. One mum swears that counting trees or lamp posts, depending on the landscape keeps her son amused, while another encourages the kids to keep a tally of the road kill they spot along the way. Frequent snacks, preferably of the forbidden, sugar laden kind, are another, more traditional, way of keeping offspring happy en route.
Whatever method you choose to keep you and your children sane while you are travelling, MumCoach's Allison Mitchell, has some tips to help you pass the time peacefully and some to help you cope when it all gets too much:
1. Set expectations
Let children know they are going on a long journey, but that it will be a fun part of the holiday. Then make it fun by providing entertainment, or perhaps treats, they aren't normally allowed.
2. Be prepared
With very young children ensure you take regular stops and make sure you are well prepared with everything you need, such as milk, food, wipes, nappies and so on.
3. Think positive
If you start your journey thinking it will be horrendous, it probably will be.
4. Tune out
If the children are screaming in the back of the car, sometimes it's best just to ignore them as if you get involved noise and tempers can escalate, rather than calm down.
5. Forget time
When children ask 'Are we nearly there yet?' answer in terms they can understand. Children under about seven don't understand time in minutes and hours. Instead say something like we will be there in one High School Musical, for example, that way they know how long it will take.
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