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"Don't Make Me Turn This Car Around!" How to Survive Kids Fighting in the Car

Posted by Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach

With summer upon us, many families will find themselves spending a lot of time together in the car.  Whether you’re taking short trips to camp or daycare, or the annual big car ride to Aunt Edna’s, the car can be a big battleground between you and your child — or among your children.  Regardless of who is fighting, the following tips can help reduce the tension.

As with most issues, the key to finding a solution is starting a conversation with your child during a calm time when you are not in the car. State clearly to your child what you see and hear happening when you are in the car, and then challenge your child to come up with some other behavior to try. For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed that when we’re driving to day camp in the morning, you yell at me and call me names.  This is not OK.  What can you do differently tomorrow instead of calling me names?” You can brainstorm some possible solutions with your child, although ultimately he should choose one specific strategy to try for next time. You can also let your child know how you plan to hold him accountable — the consequences you will give him — if he continues to misbehave while in the car.

If you have siblings who are fighting in the backseat, the process is very similar.  We recommend doing some problem solving with each child individually about what he or she can do differently,  since each child can only control his or her own actions.  Even though it may seem like one child is “the problem” and one is “the victim,” we do advise speaking with all children involved, as one may be quietly provoking the other while your eyes are on the road.

When your child does try to pick a fight with you or a sibling while you are on the road, we recommend not engaging in that argument or trying to referee between your children. A question we get frequently through 1-on-1 Coaching is “How do I do this when I’m in the car?  When I’m at home, I can disconnect and go into another room, but I can’t do that in the car!” Here’s what we recommend: Let your child know beforehand that if she chooses to argue with you while you are in the car, you are not going to speak with her until she calms down. We also encourage parents to let their kids know that if they start fighting while in the car, you are not going to get involved and both will be held accountable for fighting later.

One exception is if there is a safety issue.  If your child is hitting, throwing things, or doing something else which diverts your attention from the road, we recommend pulling the car over as soon as you can do so safely, and disengaging to allow the situation to de-escalate before continuing on.  You may choose to get out of the car, or ask your child to stand outside the car if it is safe to do that.  We recommend waiting to hold your child accountable until you reach your destination to prevent any further intensification of behavior while on the road.

With these tips in mind, you can be on the road to more peaceful car rides with your child this summer.


About Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach

Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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