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How to keep your kids happy on the road

Four words every driver dreads: “Are we there yet?” To keep you sane during long journeys, here’s a few ”keep-‘em-busy” tactics.

Girl crying in the car

Planning a long road trip with the kids in tow? Are you absolutely certain you know what you’re letting yourself in for?

Let's face it, lengthy road trips can create some great memories, but they can also be taxing - particularly where impatient and excitable kids are involved.

So it’s a good idea to plan some entertainment and games to keep all on board amused and stress-free.

The gadgets

Modern handheld game consoles, portable DVD players, tablets and MP3 players can make long journeys more tolerable for many families.

There are hundreds of games available on both Android and Apple tablets, for kids of all ages, and many are free to download.

But one big drawback is battery life. If your kids get too reliant on their tech to stay occupied, a flat battery can lead to tantrums and kick-offs the likes of which you’ve never seen.

However, many parents feel like relying on technology kills conversation and distracts families from enjoying one another’s company.

Electronics aren't the only answer

Retro pixelated game over message

You should stock the car with the old-fashioned basics like colouring and activity books, paper and pencils, some small toys and a deck of cards.

A trip to a pound shop before you hit the road can pay dividends. You could find a gift for the kids to unwrap each day of the holiday - a great incentive for behaving in the back seat.

And a variety and good supply of snacks and drinks are a must – the last thing you need are squabbles over who gets the last Werther’s Original.

In-car games

You could also use the road trip as a convenient excuse to force kids and parents to put down the gadgets, tear away from the screen and engage with one other.

To help, we’ve pulled together a few of our favourite games that can make long-distance road trips feel a good deal shorter for the whole family.

  • Story-go-round

Someone in the car thinks up a title for a story.

Based on the title, the next person starts with the first sentence of the tale – "Once upon a time there was a handsome prince called Dave..."

The next person continues with the next sentence of the story, and so on. See how crazy you can get.

  • Theme song game

Kids TV show theme tune Gif from Arthur

One member of the family hums the tune to a favourite TV programme, and everyone else tries to name the show as quickly as possible.

The first to guess correctly hums the next melody.

  • Just a minute

Ideal for older kids, this timeless BBC Radio 4 game asks players to talk for a minute on a given subject without wavering, deviating from the theme or repeating anything they’ve said.

  • Alphabet hunt

Even children who are just learning their ABCs can take part in this game.

Start with the letter "A" and find one on a sign, lorry, building or car registration plate.

The first one to get to the letter "Z" is the winner. You can do this as a competition or together as a family.

  • Number plate countdown

Choose a number plate, and using all of the last 3 letters on it, you and the family compete to see who can form the longest word.

Debates around spellings can often get heated, but isn’t a dictionary an essential part of any holiday luggage?

  • Twenty questions

That is an excellent question gif from Ironman movie

You take turns to think of a well-known figure, real or fictional.

The other players take turns to ask yes / no questions, until someone guesses the answer. The limit of 20 questions max is optional.

  • Sleeping lions

The holy grail for worn-out parents: can you convince your children that trying to keep quiet for as long as possible is a game? It’s certainly worth a try for a few minutes’ peace.

Occupying your offspring this way, as well as scheduling regular stops for everyone to stretch their legs, can help keep your young ones from getting fed up and grumpy.

What's more, all and sundry will be in the right mood to start the holiday that they’ve no doubt been looking forward to for ages.

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Tim Barnes-Clay

Leon Poultney

Tim is an experienced motoring writer with a background in radio and TV journalism. He puts his pedal to the metal each week with his must-read car reviews.

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