You spend a lot of time driving the kids around—soccer practice, rehearsals, appointments, road trips—and though you may have accepted noise and messiness as inevitable, kids can also be a source of distracted driving.
Jesse McCarthy, a parent coach and longtime educator based in Orange County, California, has some advice on how to teach kids to respect the driver and the car, so you can have a safe and pleasant drive every time:
Show respect for your child and their belongings. When you respect your children and their things, that behavior will be reciprocated. “Children are always striving to be more independent. When we treat them like they’re lower than us—that is, as dependent beings who we can just tell what to do—they will treat whatever they can in the same way.” That includes the backseat of your car.
Model the desired behavior. Young kids want to act like their parents, says McCarthy, because they want to be like the grown-ups. If you treat your car well, chances are your children will, too. That is, as long as you follow rule number one. “If you’re super tidy and clean with the car but you’re not respecting your child, she might do exactly what you don’t want her to do.”
And demonstrating good behavior extends to driving habits as well, especially when teaching a teen to drive. Wearing a seatbelt, practicing defensive driving and showing courtesy to other drivers validate that safe driving and respect for others on the road are important. Resources like geicoteendriving.com can start the conversation before your teen gets behind the wheel.
Enforce clear, calm and consistent consequences for disrespect. Children are smart and will quickly catch on if you let bad behavior go. “How many moms or dads say things like, ‘If you don’t stop kicking the seat, you’re not getting ice cream,’ but then don’t follow through?” asks McCarthy. “The child kicks the seat a few more times, followed by a few more adult warnings, and then 20 minutes later, the child is licking his chocolate ice cream-covered lips. He’s learned a valuable lesson here from his mom or dad; unfortunately, it’s not the lesson they wanted to teach.”
Keep your kids accountable as they grow up. Young adults should be aware of their responsibility as drivers borrowing mom or dad’s car. “If a teenage driver disrespects his parent’s car, then the natural consequence is that he doesn’t get to drive it.” Aside from keeping the car tidy, make safe driving and priority and sign the GEICO Parent-Teen Driving Contract together. With terms for both parents and teens, it makes both parties answerable for their driving habits.
Don’t rely on gadgets … While your first instinct may be to distract kids with games and backseat movies, this should be an exception and not the rule. “Quick fixes should rarely be needed,” says McCarthy. “If parents set the proper groundwork, children don’t need grown-up distractions for a trouble-free ride. They’ll handle things on their own: look out the window at the world, talk with others in the car or tinker with an object they chose to bring along.”
… but don’t forbid them, either. You don’t have to deny your children entertaining distractions; McCarthy points out that adults rarely spend hours as a passenger without a book, movie or game. High-tech gadgets simply should not be used consistently as a fix-all.
Will enforcing these rules transfer over to when your son or daughter is older and borrowing your car? In general, yes. “If parents model respect for the car while raising their child, he or she will respect the car, both as a young passenger and as an eventual driver,” says McCarthy.
So, here’s to a happy, calm ride ¬as you chauffeur your little ones around—until they’re able to do so themselves.
Instilling good habits in kids pays off when you start early. Give them a head start on a healthy financial outlook with our Teach Kids to Save, Budget and Splurge article.
By Lauren Jerome