Stop Backseat Bickering


So, my wife and kids have headed out for a Spring Break road trip. I can only imagine what the trip was like. Being the loving and wise father that I am, I know my kids pretty well. Fun conversations probably turned into playful antics. Antics turned into mild annoyances. Annoyances turned into frustrations. Lastly, frustrations turned into explosions screaming. (My wife actually said the trip there was relatively pleasant with no explosions, but not all trips are.)

Anyway, as parents we spend a LOT of time in the car. We have practice, rehearsals, school, church, doctors, dentists, etc. We can sometimes feel like a taxi service.

Despite our best efforts to sing along to the music that our kids like (thank goodness my kids love bands like Third Day, and Casting Crowns) and play road games, keeping a fun and light-hearted atmosphere does not always happen. Eventually there is one kid messing with another kid’s seat belt, or your best mannered child just becomes bored with the long ride or just the number of times they have to get into the car. When this happens, we usually get whining, fussing, and even moments of disrespect.

What are we supposed to do in these situations? Yelling only works until the shock wears off. Quiet-Mouse has a short life-span. An idle threat undermines your authority, and usually has little impact. All these tactics can get the desired impact – but usually just for a short time. To change the actions long-term in your family, you have to be consciously addressing the heart of the issues of your children’s unacceptable behavior.

While I am going to outline a new strategy that works more consistently over time, I want us to realize why.
The reason is that this strategy teaches our children how to think. It gives them reasoning skills. With threats, kids can test your resolve or your memory (honestly, we can forget to follow-through with consequences). With the below strategy, there is little to forget. There is no grounding or sticker chart head-counting. We don’t have to remember which kid gets ice-cream and which doesn’t. It is simple, and natural. Best of all, it keeps us from yelling and becoming the monster we don’t want to be.


This new strategy happens to be a new rule…

One night over dinner or sometime when everyone is calm, let your kids know it’s time for a change. This conversation (in your calm, cool, friendly voice) can go something like…

Hey kids, remember this afternoon on the way home from school when you guys were yelling and picking on each other in the car? When you guys do that, I find it really hard to concentrate on my driving and it’s dangerous for all of us.

So, I’ve decided I’m not going to allow us to be in that dangerous situation anymore. From now on, when I hear fighting, I’m going to pull over to the side of the road and I’ll wait until you’re done with your argument.

When you’re done fighting and it is QUIET, then we’ll continue on. (Pause)  Just so we’re all on the same page with this, what will happen if you guys are acting up or fighting in the car?   (Have them repeat the new plan.) Sounds great. I’m sure we won’t have any more issues with fighting in the car.

Now, will this eliminate all arguing in all situations forever? Nope. Absolutely not. Will it eventually reduce the # of occurrences? It really should, and will if you execute it consistently. Will you be late? Probably. That will be a natural consequence. They might miss out on some planned fun.

Best time to try this is when there is an event your kids really want to go to, but the event is not incredibly time sensitive – especially to you. Not all children will learn this lesson the same time. When you stop, one kid might yell at another. Try to stay detached from the argument. Let your kids work it out. When done, you might want to give some input like Jim, blaming your sister and yelling at her added 4 minutes to our stop. By doing that, you just delayed our arrival further.

Help your kids realize that there are actions they all need to work on.

OK, new rule kinda works, but how do I address the real issues?

Strategies are just tools that help us increase a good behavior (like nice conversations) and/or decrease bad behavior (yelling, fussing, and hitting). To really help our kids grow, we need to learn to help them with self-control.

 “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 25:28

Self-control is the most important thing to teach your children. Giving your child confidence or equipping them with extra math skills will always fall short of self-control. It is self-control that keeps your child from getting into as much trouble. It is self-control that helps them think twice before using drugs, cheating on a test, or getting into a bad relationship.

A major key to self-control is learning how to recognize emotions and learn how to express them wisely. Without being able to identify and label them, feelings will continue to be frustrating to children and will drive them to actions before they can think about what to do with them.

If a child learns to identify the feeling, then they can learn to use a strategy of expressing or dealing with the feeling. So, over the next several days (weeks?) I will be gathering ideas and generating lessons about teaching our children self-control (a lesson we can all work on personally as well).