Car Games – Part 1: Baby

If you read my last post, Share Your Plane Trip with Young Kids Disaster Story, you may have realized that I started not because I have all the answers, but because I made a lot of mistakes. But my ineptitude was not limited to air travel. In fairness to myself, I wasn’t inept at traveling in the car with a baby, it just caused severe and lasting emotional trauma. So this is part one of a four part series on keeping kids entertained in the car.

Life-altering experiences affect different people in different ways. I used to be a rock climber. Once a year, a group of us would make the trek from Minneapolis, MN to Devil’s Tower, WY. We’d train for these expeditions at an indoor climbing gym. One evening, I was tired and skipped a bolt near the top of a route. After pulling a lot of slack to clip into the final bolt, I missed and dropped 25 feet before slamming into the wall a mere 8 ft. above the ground. From that point forward, my hands would sweat every time I thought of climbing. (my keyboard is getting slimy even as I type!)

Severely traumatic experiences make my palms sweat. When I think about driving in the car with a crying baby, my hands start sweating. I used to actually shake, but years of self-guided meditation has cured me of that. How can mere noise cause such savage fear? You know how babies are supposed to fall asleep in the car? Well mine didn’t. I was destined to give birth to not one, but three car-screamers.

If you were blessed with a baby that falls asleep to the steady thrum of wheels on pavement, well, good for you.

But if you, like me, tremble at the thought of being confined in the car with a crying baby, read on, sister. I literally pulled what sparse hair I had from my head. I wept and gnashed my teeth. I actually broke into a cold sweat when I heard the click of the infant seat snapping into its base. For those of you who think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Daily errands were truly the bane of my existence as a new mother.

But it got better with babies #2 and #3. I learned tricks to quiet the baby or distract myself (and fellow passengers) from the cacophony of sound emitting from the tiny being sitting behind me.

Tip #1: Have a plan

This is your job. You are a mother now, and you need to figure out how to thrive, not just survive. Having a strategy makes all the difference.

Tip #2: Get creative

If your attempts to sooth your baby aren’t working, try something else. My mother assumed that all babies responded to the calming effects of classical music. My middle child preferred techno music with obnoxiously heavy base. She also calmed down when everyone in the car sang Zippity Doo Dah at full volume. Finding out what works for your baby might take a bit of trial and error. But it’s well worth the effort.

Tip #3: Look for a cause

If your baby is normally calm but becomes fussy in the car, look for the root of the problem. Some babies get motion sickness when facing backwards. With your pediatrician’s approval, try some ginger drops. You may also want to look at the car seat itself. My chiropractor told me that many car seats cause an unnatural curve in a baby’s spine, which can become irritating after time. This is especially true if you are traveling on gravel or bumpy roads.

Tip #4: Find activities that don’t require props

When my oldest daughter was 6 months old, I drove alone with her for 10 hours to visit my parents in Minnesota. Despite MAJOR pre-trip anxiety (mine, not hers), we actually had a great time, but it wasn’t without effort and creativity. Armed with a bag of 20-30 toys, I figured I had the entertainment thing licked. But I soon learned that toys weren’t going to cut it. Everything I handed her invoked a happy little coo, but was tossed out of the car seat within 20 seconds. Sitting with an empty toy bag (and very messy back seat), I came up with some more lasting ways to keep her entertained without toys.

  • Talk to her about everything you do and see.  Be your baby’s personal narrator, explaining the world as it unfolds around her.
  • Consonant / vowel combinations: Starting at the beginning of the alphabet, combine each consonant with each vowel sound. i.e. baa, bay, beh, bee, bih, bye, bah, bow, buh, boo.  This simple exercise often calms babies while introducing them to the basic phonetic components of language.
  • Animal noises: Use a full sentence to pair animal names with the sound they make.  For example: “What does a dog say?  Woof, woof”  If you’re feeling musically inclined, go ahead and belt out a chorus of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”
  • Nursery rhymes and songs: Build your repertoire with children’s audio tapes and CD’s.  It’s amazing how much children learn from these little rhymes and songs.

You are your baby’s best toy. Explore how many ways you can feed your baby’s hungry mind.

Tip #5: When nothing will entertain your baby, go ahead and entertain yourself

It matters not what fellow drivers and passing pedestrians think. If chair dancing makes you feel good, go ahead and do it. Keep an indulgent treat in your diaper bag just to get yourself grounded. Deep breathing, chanting, whistling, singing, shouting (happily, of course!), eating… focus on something that makes you feel good. ‘Cause when mama feels good, everyone feels good!


  1. Thank you for lots of good advice. I would like to know the age of the child, how young to be able to entertain them and duration of the trip.
    My son and daughter-in-law are going on a long trip {about 1500kilometres 1 way by car} and bubs will only be 10 months. I think it will be too much, being strapped in a car seat for such a long trip.


    • This is a great question. The answer is different for every child. My oldest child would get tired of each new toy after 3-5 minutes. Since my parents live 10 hours away (just under 1000km), she spent a lot of time being fussy on each trip. As she got older, her attention span got longer. At 10 months, a lot depends on the personality of the child, how well they slept, etc. Even in the worst case, it is the parents who will take the brunt of the stress, not the child. You need not worry about your grandchild. Nine out of ten times, I was pleasantly surprised at how well my children did on road trips. I have made the 10 hour trip to and from my parents’ house at least 6 times with a child under one year. We also moved from Colorado to northern Michigan (approximately 20 hours in the car) when my son was 9 months old. With an adult or another child to entertain him, he was great the vast majority of the time. I have only one word of caution. Have your son and daughter-in-law do a test drive for a couple hours before the long trip. If the baby seems uncomfortable and squirms a lot, you may have them try a different car seat. Some car seats have very little cushion and do not support the baby’s lower back. This can cause back problems in the future. You may want to check into a car seat that chiropractors recommend. I will be writing an article on this subject in the near future. Best of luck!