Here’s a great question I was recently asked by a parent whose child thinks the car is the place to test vocal chord capacity.
What’s a way to discipline an action that is annoying (like screaming in the car)? What is a natural and/or logical consequence for these kinds of actions? Should I view any action that just bothers me personally as something I just need to get over?
Ah, the piercing sounds of shrill voices permeating the tiny space inside a car. Few things rattle the ear drums and test the nerves as much as these. And, while some bothersome actions can be ignored, this is an annoyance that needs our attention. Not only is screaming in the car irritating, it can be dangerous, too.
When dealing with an annoying or inappropriate behavior, parents often search for the ideal consequence to get it to stop. But before I share a consequence, I want to suggest that if we focus specifically on providing a consequence after the action has occurred, we’ll likely miss the underlying need that is causing the behavior. And if that underlying need does not get met, the behavior will pop up again in one form or another. Therefore, before I suggest consequences, let’s take a look at possible root causes of the annoying behavior and see if we can prevent it altogether.
Could it be that the screaming occurs because your child has lots of energy and needs to let it out?
You may want to try to get the wiggles out by having a running, dancing, jumping, singing/speaking loudly session before getting into the car.
Could it be that the screaming is in response to siblings squabbling in the backseat?
Perhaps reducing the tension with distractions could help. Offering to have your child take a favorite toy into the car, or enlisting them to choose a healthy snack for the ride are two popular ideas. And when my sons were younger, our family’s favorite car distraction was listening to music or books on tape.
Music: Up through early elementary school, CDs by Raffi, Cedarmont Kids and Joe McDermott were a must in my car. Sing-a-longs came naturally to us, and we all chimed in. Local children’s musicians also drew our attention, and if we were lucky enough to see them performing live, we’d purchase their CD for extra special encores. As my kids got older, clean radio stations like KLOVE and AIR1 replaced the CDs, but the singing continued.
Books on Tape: Focus on the Family has a terrific series of children’s stories called Adventures in Odyssey and Whit’s End. My kids would listen for hours on end. We borrowed copies from the library, where we’d stock up each week. The kids knew they had to be buckled in their seats with no bickering before I’d play the CD. And sometimes we’d do a brief recap of what had already happened in the adventure and what we thought might happen next before resuming our listening. As they got older, we listened to books on tape from their favorite authors. Or sometimes they’d prefer to simply read a great book to kill the time in the boring car.
Could it be that they have trouble with volume control?
Depending upon their developmental age or possible sensory issues, kiddos may need to learn how to modulate their voices (speak in soft and loud tones). Try making a game of this by having them copy your tone of voice and what you are saying. Then you can talk about when and where those volumes are appropriate. Here’s an example:
- (You whisper) “This is my quiet voice. I use it when the baby is sleeping and when I’m at the library or in the car.”
- (Then using a conversational voice) “This is my inside voice. I can use it in the house, in the car, and when I’m talking to grandma on the telephone.
- (Finally, using a raised voice) “This is my loud voice. I use it outside or when I call to you across the house.”
At the first sound of loud voices being used in the car, remind them (in your whispering voice) “Only quiet and inside voices are allowed in the car. Loud voices are for outside.” You can even go further by making funny noises in your quiet and inside voices to get the point across. Try growling, squeaking, speaking in a deep voice, or even in an accent and invite your kids to mimic you.
Could it be that they feel alone and are trying to connect with you?
Create conversation: Kids get bored sitting in the car and that can feel lonely even though you are sitting inches away. Driving is a great time to engage them in conversation. Try connecting with a story, by asking questions about their new friend or toy, or by making up a story together.
Setting the Rule:
It’s important for our kids to learn to follow rules, particularly when safety is involved. It’s also important to set a clear rule about voices in the car. Try to avoid using the word NO, as in “NO screaming in the car,” as this tends to invite a challenge to the rule. Instead, declare in a soft voice that, “The inside of the car is a quiet zone. Only quiet and inside voices are allowed.”
If screams occur while driving, gently remind and redirect. If the rule is broken again and you are headed to your a place your child is looking forward to (like a play date), try saying, “This car will go to Johnny’s house if everyone is using quiet voices while we drive. Screaming voices will make the car go home.” This sets a clear boundary but also puts the power to choose in your child’s hands. Be prepared to follow through if the rule is indeed broken.
It does pay to choose your battles wisely, and there are situations when “just getting over” the annoyance can be helpful. But behaviors that involve safety or are ongoing should not be overlooked. Look to prevention to not only address the problem today but to keep it from coming back in the future. You can find more about effectively handling annoying behaviors in these posts too: A Real Solution for Annoying Behaviors Part 1 and Part 2.
Question: Please share! What activities do you use in the car to keep your kids occupied and make the drive easier? You can leave a comment by clicking here.