Children Screaming in the Car

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Controlling 2.5-year-old's tantrums in the car

March 2006

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.) THANKS! Anonymous

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. GOOD LUCK! skashan
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! Montclair Mommy
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! Jeanne
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 world.

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. anon

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 the car.

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 luck anon

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. Alison

3 year old SCREAMING in car

March 2004

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 composure).

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 sleep.

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 meantime?

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 in there. am

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 you). Andrea