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How to avoid a mutiny when you take the kids along for the ride

STORY: MARGARET LINLEY

You can immerse yourself all you like online but at some point, you need to hop in the car and visit that country town. Those country towns. That house. Those houses. Which is fine if it’s just you and a friend, or you and your partner. But how do you get the kids in the car again and again? What can you do to stop the little loves from refusing to get on board when you suggest another drive in the country?

No one wants a mutiny on their hands when it’s time to hop in the car. The downright refusal, the rigid bodies which refuse to bend, the sulks. And once you do manage to coax, cajole, bribe or lever them all in, no one wants to listen to endless bickering – ‘She’s looking out my window’, ‘His leg is pressing on my leg’, ‘Are we there yet?’

So what to do?

Here’s my top twenty tried and true tips for managing the troops when you’re house-hunting in the country.

1. First, it may be a good idea to keep the kids in the dark about your real motives. Kids are literal thinkers. They’ll think the move is happening almost immediately; they’ll get anxious and confused. Tell them any of these kinds of things: you’re having a day in the countryside; you’re having a look around; you’re getting some fresh air; you’re having an adventure; or you’re going on a family picnic.

2. Time your visit with something interesting going on in the town. A craft market, a steam engine rally.

3. Appeal to the kids’ curiosity. Promote the thing the town is ‘famous’ for. There are lots of apple orchards at (town) and we’re going to get some fresh apples, straight from the tree. Or there is a great bike track and we’ll take your bikes. Or let’s see if the trestle bridge really is special. Buy some birdseed before you leave home for the ducks on the lake.

Hang on on a minute – I can hear you say – when are we getting to see the houses? When are we looking at the towns? This is just sounds like a day out.

That’s the plan. The kids will think the day is all about having fun as a family, instead of an investigation into your new life. You will be able to intersperse the investigation with the fun. Let’s just keep on with the kids for a bit longer.

4. Create a competition which spans the multiple trips in the car. Each trip you are on the hunt for the ‘best hot chips’ or ‘best vanilla slice’ or ‘best public toilets’. This creates a highlight and a funny purpose. It also primes the kids for a tasty snack or a ridiculous conversation about the attributes of bathrooms. Create a score sheet (what will you give points for?) and have a lively discussion about the variations between towns.

5. Pack a lunch. And refillable water bottles. There’s nothing like a raging thirst or a rumbling tum to turn the kids into monsters. Choose a park. Let the kids run about. This gives the adults plenty of time to chat quietly about the big decisions which are going on behind the scenes. It will also save you a bucket of money and stop the kids from being hyped up on fast food.

6. Let the kids burn off steam if they start getting tetchy. Instead of driving past the turn-off to the waterfall or lookout, go down that road, let the kids out for a run and the adults can talk again, privately.

Oh, I see. We can provide opportunities for the kids to be distracted and we can talk uninterrupted.

Yes, you’ve got it.

7. Give the kids some money to spend. Put parameters around it to give the kids plenty of time to deliberate. Which town, which shop, does everyone have to spend it at the same shop? How will the decisions be made? Individually or collaboratively?

8. Talk about each town with the kids – what do most towns have, what do some towns not have? If you were in charge of a town what would you do? What laws would you make?

9. Set a challenge. How many different (types of, or numbers of) birds will we see today, or how many different animals? Be engaged in the questions which arise: is a brown cow and a black cow the same type of animal? How will we decide?

10. Stop the car for a ‘magic minute’. Everyone piles out and you point in a direction where the kids can run freely (an oval, a reserve) and say, ‘Run until you think a minute is up and then stop like a statue’. You set the timer for a minute. Try again. And again. It’s always surprising how long a minute can feel.

11. Try a ‘magic minute’ in the car. With eyes shut, kids begin with hands on heads and then place them in their laps when they think a minute is up. Get involved yourself (unless you’re driving!). It’s good to see adults don’t always guess right. There’s lots of scope for conversation about when a minute feels longer or shorter, and whether guesses become more like guess-timates.

12. No one is ever going to give their kid Fruit Loops for breakfast (all that sugar, arrrgh) but what about as a snack? Have the kids thread the cereal on a string to wear around their neck and to eat in the car.

13. Keep a little bag of instruments in the front seat to pull out and pass around so everyone can play to the kids’ favourite music.

14. Be ridiculous. The next house we see will be your house, little Johnny. The next car we see will be your car, little Jimmy. The next animal we see is little Sally. Every time we see a white horse (a truck, a bridge) we have to sing a particular song.

    Excuse me, but I still don’t see how we are getting to see houses and towns and carry on our vigorous investigation into the next stage of our lives.

    Look, I don’t have all the answers for you in this article. Right now I really want to focus on keeping the kids amused for some of the time at least. The main thing at this stage is not to have a mutiny on your hands anytime you try to pop the urchins in the car.

    15. Play an audio book. Hand out the tablets. Let them indulge in their favourite apps.

    16. If the kids have some phone experience, hand over your phone and have one kid interview the other and video it. It could be very simple – what’s your favourite colour, how old are you, what do you like to eat? Or kids could assume the identity of someone else; or something else (a seagull, an elephant).

    17. Have a repertoire of games suitable for the car which require no extra equipment. Name that Tune is an oldie but a goodie. Flick through the (kids’) songs on your device and see who is first to recognise each song as it plays.

    18. Another game: Twenty questions. You know this. Someone thinks of a person or an object or a place and everyone else has 20 question (which can only be answered with a yes or a no) in which to guess what the thing is. Obviously you will need to moderate this according to your kids’ abilities. If this seems beyond your audience, call it four questions and the person must be in the car with you. Help the kids develop strategies in good question asking.

    19. Another game, this one with number plate. When you see a car, someone calls out the letters on the licence plate (RMJ) and then everyone has to make up what they might stand for (really mad jam, rich man jumps).

    20. What about this oldie: For kids who can spell, begin with a word (say, green), the next person must say a word which begins with the last letter of that word (neck), and so on. Or someone chooses a letter (out of their head) and then everyone takes turns coming up with a word which starts with that letter. These are simple but very engaging and you can come up with a million variations. For any of these to work, at least one parent needs to be involved.

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