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10 Tips for Taming Toddlers on Long Car Rides

Home > Sydney > Lists | Family | Escape the City | Day Trips | Automotive
by Tracey (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and jewellery designer living in Bondi. Check out for more.
Published June 14th 2015
Your car was built for more than doing the weekly shopping
The human toddler has the shortest attention span of any known species. Two seconds after they've settled into their mini sofa to enjoy a book, you turn around to find them rifling through the tupperware drawer while simultaneously smearing a jar's worth of Nutella across the carpet. Getting them to sit still for any length of time seems almost impossible.

Nutella - the toddler face mask of choice

For those with toddlers, the thought of getting in a car for an enjoyable day trip to the country is quickly eclipsed by images of peanut butter sandwiches squelched into car seats and tantrums that lead to cars turning back before they reach the end of the street.

An invitation to attend a wedding that will be at the end of a four hour drive led me to start researching ways to tame toddlers on long car rides. Here are the top 10 suggestions from friends who have reached the end of that long drive with their sanity in tact:

1. Personal assistants
When possible, have somebody in the back seat to keep your little one comforted and make them feel like their every whim is being attended to.

2. Sleepy head
Leave the trip to just before nap or evening sleep time so that there's a chance that your tyke will be napping for most of the ride.

Toddler asleep in car
Travelling at nap time is a great idea. Image: Flickr - Dennis Brekke

3. Sticky fingers
Buy lots of sheets of stickers or Post-It notes and a cheap note pad for them to stick them to. Toddlers seem to love stickers and thankfully you can buy sheets of them at a very reasonable price. Just make sure they're the type that are easy to remove from upholstery and toddler eyebrows.

4. Give in to the iPad
Whether you're for or against it, the iPad can be an invaluable helper when little ones need to be entertained. Load it up with photos and videos of your child or download some toddler apps.

Some great apps for toddlers include:

Peppa's Paintbox
Kapu Blocks
Fish School
Toca Kitchen
Elmo loves ABCs
Sago mini monsters

Sometimes iPads are a parental sanity saver. Image - Flickr Tia Henriksen

5. Give it a break
Pull over every 1-2 hours and take a break. It could be a way to explore a town or area that you've previously driven right through and always been curious about. Plan these breaks into your journey and look forward to them as part of the adventure.

6. Little nibbles
Get creative with little bento box meals. Create your own toddler bento box using a fishing tackle box (you can buy them from Big W for about $3 each) and fill it with sultanas, shredded cheese, yogurt buttons, popcorn and other tiny nibbles.

Toddler bento box
Image: Flickr - Melissa

7. Innies and outies
Toddlers love using their fine motor skills by trying to pick up small things, open and close lids and put things into or take things out of containers. Bring some empty containers and get your toddler to transfer raisins or cotton balls from one to the other. Stretch the game out by getting them to open and close the lids after filling.

8. Under wraps
Toddlers love unwrapping presents and discovering new things (or re-discovering old toys they'd forgotten about). Buy some cheap toys from Hot Dollar or pull out some old toys you had packed away and wrap them up in magazine pages. Your toddler will have loads of fun unwrapping and discovering the 'new' things.

All wrapped up

9. Double bubble
Bring a large sheet of bubble wrap for the little one to pop to their heart's content.

Alternatively bring a bottle of detergent bubbles and a bubble blower that the person sitting in the back can blow across and out of the child's window.

Bubble wrap
Toddlers love bubble wrap Image: Flickr - Joseph Novak

10. The money maker
Toddlers seem to know what's most important to you, and that makes them want it even more. For us, that's usually he car keys, but they'll be in the car ignition... My little one adores pulling money and cards out of my wallet and putting them back in again. Find an old purse or wallet and fill it with fake cards made from cut-up cardboard boxes and money made from magazine pages. This will keep them entertained for at least five minutes!

So there you have it, 10 tips that could help to save your sanity on your next long day-trip. You can now leave your neighbourhood bubble with enough ideas to keep them busy for at least 10 minutes...and by then you'll be invested in the trip and it will be too late to turn around.

Toddler car trip
'Shhh, I'm trying to get some shut eye on this trip!' Image: Flickr - Eric Lewis

Do you have any great toddler-taming car trip tips to share?
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Why? Because we all need to leave our suburb at some point
Where: Lovely weekend day-trips that you've been longing to take
Cost: Your sanity, unless you use these tips
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