Children Screaming in the Car
Berkeley Parents Network >
Services & Businesses >
Children Screaming in the Car
I've searched the website, but don't see much about this: Does
anyone have helpful suggestions for how to deal with a
preschooler's tantrums in the CAR? My son has begun SCREAMING
when he gets upset over the usual 2.5-year-old stuff (power
struggles with Mommy, mainly), and while at home I might give
him a time out or distract him with something, I can't think of
anything to improve the situation in the car. Short of just
letting him WIN the power struggle, do you have any ideas?
(Usually his sister is with us, so if we're going to an
activity that's fun for both of them, saying ''okay, we'll just
skip it and go home'' doesn't seem like a fair option.)
I have the same problem. I have a 3 year old and a 19 month old.
The baby is usually quite and just looks at my daughter like she's
crazy. What I did was buy her a cd headset. I got a character that she
likes (Dora) and I bought her some cds and now she sits back there and
sings her little heart out. When she sings that gives the baby some
entertainment. Don't get me wrong, she still acts up back there, but it
has cut down tremdously. I think once the baby turns 2 that I will
invest on a dvd player for them to watch cartoons back there. I believe
it will be a good investment.
YES, we went through this. Some have suggested simply pulling over and
refusing to drive until the screaming (or if more than one child, the
fighting) stops. I am told this is effective. In my case, my
three-yr-old went nuts whenever I applied the brakes (obviously
something I was going to do when I needed to, like it or not). A
positive discipline coach in the area named Lori Onderwyzer gave a talk
at our preschool. I got some great advice from her and did a role
playing game on the living room floor with toy cars and little people,
showing what would happen if I did not wait my turn and simulating
dramatic crashes, crying people, etc. Literally the next day we saw a
total turnaround. I also purchased small rattles and encouraged the kids
to rattle them anytime we stopped, and made up a song about mommy
driving safely which I would sing anytime I started to hear signs of
tantrums starting. You might modify this role play and song thing to
show why it is important to let mommy concentrate on her driving. We
were losing our minds over this one so I can really imagine how
frustrated you are. You might also check out some positive discipline
books and explore ''undue attention''
(demanding your attention at inappropriate times) and some of the
strategies for dealing with it. I believe that was the root of our
problem. Good luck!
I think the primary focus should be safety. Is your child in the proper
child safety restraint for his age and size or he is able to get out of
it? If he is safely restrained, then you need to focus on driving
safely. A screaming child is a hazardous distraction. My technique is
to tell my child, ''Try to calm yourself down, I need to focus on
driving so we will get there safely.'' Then I sing quietly to myself.
Songs from the musical ''Carousel'' keep me calm, such as ''You'll Never
Walk Alone.'' Sometimes turning on the classical music station at a soft
volume will refocus a child. I also offer my kids a bottle of water to
help them refocus and calm down. Good luck and hang in there!
I see the tantrums in the car as the easy ones to deal with-- There's
nothing you can do to fix whatever the problem is- ''I'm driving! I
can't turn around to pick up your book now''. And they're strapped in,
so you don't have to worry about the kicking, flailing, running around
the house, or throwing food issues you might at home. It's a nightmare
to listen to, but I'd just advise you to keep telling him you can't deal
with it now and eventually he'll get it (I hope). I agree it's unfair to
take away the activity becuase his sister is involved. If it gets really
bad, pull over and give him a time-out. We actually stopped and got our
daughter out of the car for a time-out because she refused to wear her
seatbelt properly. That was such a surprise, she's never wiggled out of
it again. I remember being mortified if my mom pulled over to get mad at
my sister and me.
Been There (Still There!)
Basically, you need to make the payoff not worth it for him. He will
eventually stop screaming if he's not getting the response he's looking
for. May take a few weeks, while he's trying it out, though. Get your
daughter some kind of headset she can wear with books on tape or music.
Then, either do the same for yourself (but it's technically illegal to
wear earplugs while driving), blare the music, or grin and bear it. You
want to go about your driving, acting as if you haven't a care in the
The main component here is to ignore him completely, unless he's kicking
you in the back. You don't want him to see that you're annoyed OR angry,
because then he got something from screaming.
My 2.5 year old daughter has never liked the car and car trips are
usually stressful for us. When she really loses it, I have had the most
success with food (fish crackers, juice, bananas) to refocus her energy.
When that is just not
working (and I am losing my patience), I pull over/park and step out of
Maybe you could just take your other child and yourself out of the car,
stand next to it, and give everyone a minute to calm down. I have had
to do this up to 3 times in a trip, but I don't usually have to go this
far for several weeks afterward. When she sees that I don't want to be
around her behavior, she begins to get some more self-control. Good
For me, kids screaming/arguing/yelling in the backseat while I try to
drive is very stressful--when the kids did this, I was afraid I'd get so
distracted that I could get in an accident. So I found a way to stop
the problem--hit them where it hurts (not literally, of course). When
my daughter was a toddler, she would love to come home from daycare and
watch a video. So the rule was if she screamed in the car or fought
with her baby brother, no videos. I think we had to enforce that rule
once, and then no more screaming (at least after one warning)! In other
words, take away some privelege (from the perpetrator) that would really
be missed and I bet your problem will stop.
Of course, explain the new rule and follow through on the
punishment--but I bet you will get good results.
We have two daughters. 3 years old and 10 months old.
My daughter (3) is loosing control on car rides. She screams
at the top of her lungs and throws things (usually starting
with her shoes) straight at her sister when she is trying to
fall asleep or is asleep. She laughs hysterically when I ask
her to stop. I have tried every way that I can think of to get
her to stop. I have tried things from every school of thought -
- anger, disappointment, threats, bribery, reason, punishment,
ignoring -- everything shy of physical abuse. (You may have
seen me stopped along side the road holding one or both of
them, or just sitting on top of my car trying to gain
I know she is trying to get control (and succeeding), but I'm
really not sure what she is really gaining here, so it is
difficult for me to figure out a remedy. She has been doing
this since her sister was very small, and the last couple of
weeks has turned it up a bit by adding in threats (that seem
way advanced and disturbing ''I want to cook her and eat her''
and ''I want to hit her head on the hard wood) and spitting.
She obviously does not do this all the time. She does it
generally when we are all tired from a long day, we are on our
way home, and she does not want to give into her own need to
I feel terrible for my baby who is trying to sleep, and her
father and I are just frusterated and angry (she did it today
with both of us in the car).
Has anybody out there had a similar experience? I know this
manefestation of the resentment towards her sister is a phase
and only temperary (this is my mantra), but does anyone have
any advice to get me home from the grocery store in the
Your posting was so real and so funny, and I can only say that
to you because I am going through something very similar with my
3.5 year old who pesters, provokes, and is too rough with our
youngest child. The book that helped me the most to understand
what my child is going through is, 'Your Three-Year-Old, Friend
or Enemy' by Louise Bates Ames. She doesn't go into sibling
rivalry too much, but she does identify the emotional turmoil of
this age and writes that by 3.5yo chilren are 'holding on for
dear life' emotionally.
This is an insecure age and kids need lots of support, a patient
parent, and as little direct confrontation from mommy as
possible (because at this age, direct confrontation will just
lead to a full-blown tantrum). I have run to this book many
times when I felt like I couldn't understand or handle the
tantrums anymore and needed reminding of what a difficult stage
this is. There is also a book titled 'Siblings Without Rivalry'
which got high reviews on Amazon and is on my to-buy list. Hang
Try contacting Barbara Hornsleth Croizat, MFCC. Her phone # is
(510)526-0068. She gives lectures and classes in Positive
Parenting. I went to hear her speak and it changed how I
approach conflicts such as yours and life has greatly
improved! (one thing she says is that you have to deal with
this problem NOT when it is happening, but talk to your
daughter before and come up with a plan that works for both of
this page was last updated: Feb 6, 2007
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are transitioning to a new website: BerkeleyParentsNetwork.org
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network