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Backseat Battlefield

by on Jan.26, 2010, under Behavior, Discipline, Parenting, Public Behavior, Safety

It’s not likely that your car arrived factory equipped with a chauffeur’s screen, the one you flip up at the touch of a button. So, what the heck is a parent to do when the kids’ fighting in the back seat drives you nuts.

 To your kids, the back seat of a car is home sweet home. Just like they misbehave more, when they are at home, so do they squabble more  in the car. ..when you are there!  I am quite sure that your fellow carpool driver never complains that your child bickers with the other kids when she drives. Siblings fight in the car because it is just like home. In the familiar setting, the one in which the child is the most comfortable, in which he is sure of your love, he will practice his worst behavior. Your car is no different.

 And in the car you, dear parent, are a captive audience. What your child wants most of all is your attention…negative or positive. Truth be told, he is sure to get your attention when he bugs his brother.  Add to that the close quarters of the car and you have a perfect battlefield – all the ingredients for backseat bickering.

 Here are a few tips for lessening the backseat bickering:

  •  Don’t be an audience. When at all possible, ignore your children’s car fights. Even one comment, one threat, one sigh, or one eye roll count as your attention.  Ignore! Ignore!  Ignore!
  • Ignore the fighting, not the children. When in the car pay animated and interested attention to the children when they are not fighting. They’ll get the message.
  • The issue is the noise, not the fight.  Be clear about it: “In order for me to drive safely, you need to use quieter voices in the car. I need to be able to concentrate on my driving.”  
  • Accept no tattling.  Do not receive any complaints about who did what to whom or who did it first. No blaming. Pay attention only to the elevated noise that undermines you being a safe driver. “Your fighting is not my business. Your loud voices, however, are a distraction. I cannot drive safely when you are so noisy. It needs to stop now.”
  • Be consistent in your reactions. You need to react in the same way every time it happens,  if you expect your children to learn you mean business. You can’t tolerate the bickering noise one day and blow your top the next.
  • If the noise of the bickering is driving you nuts:  Pull over to the side of the road. Get out of the car and open the back door. Without anger but with utter seriousness say to your children, “I cannot drive safely when you are making so much noise. It needs to stop now.” Hopefully, they will be shocked enough to stop.
  • If the bickering persists:  Pull over one more time. Get out of the car, once more open the back door and say, “I will not drive this car until the noisy fighting stops.”  Then step away from the car, still within full view of the kids, and busy yourself. Clean out your wallet, work on your Blackberry, read old grocery receipts… but ignore the kids. Give it a few minutes, and when things have settled down, get back in and continue on your way. No comments. They will get your message loud and clear.
  • If your car has a third row, you have the option of moving a child’s seat.  When two children are unable to sit peacefully next to one another, they lose the privilege of doing so. Move one booster or car seat to the back, or assign one child a new seat. Ignore the complaints.
  • Tell them, “Sit on your hands.” This is a crazy cure, but it is distracting enough that it works.  Before all heck breaks loose, as you sense things deteriorating, tell you children to “Sit on your hands.”  It’s so silly and takes so much effort that it stops the fighting action.
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