You strap your kid into the car seat, then turn up the tunes for the long trip to Nana's house. But by the time you reach the first tollbooth on the turnpike, your toddler is squirming. Unfortunately, expecting her to sit quietly for long in the backseat is unreasonable. If she doesn't feel engaged, she may not be able to keep herself calm and might express her understandable need for interaction in a typical manner -- with a tantrum, Dr. Singer explains.
How to Help Toddlers are easily distracted and require frequent gear-shifts, says Shelly Rivoli, author of Travels With Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips With Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children. Think up plenty of interactive play ideas in advance, like a simple game of "I spy" or telling stories -- and bring books and playthings that your little one can use on her own, like Magna Doodle and lacing and buckle toys that don't have a whole lot of pieces.
Once you pull out of your driveway, engage your toddler immediately. This way, she won't mind taking a break and quietly looking at some books on her own after a while. It's wise to try to plan the trip so part of it takes place during naptime. When your child is awake, be prepared to make rest stops every hour or two so she can stretch; if you wait until she's wiggling around, she'll think she has to make a fuss to get what she needs, and a pattern will be established, Dr. Singer explains. "Taking a rest stop sooner is worth it in the long run." It can also help to map out fun places to stop along the way to break up the trip; Rivoli suggests detouring at a pet store, a library, or a park. Bringing bubbles or a playground ball can make rest stops more exciting too.
If your child does have a breakdown -- and you're traveling with your spouse or another adult -- consider pulling over so one of you can move to the back to tend to her needs. It can get lonely back there, and a little company can go a long way. Keep in mind that if you have a very active or needy toddler, one of you may want to sit with her from the start.