Picture this: You’ve been working hard all day, you’re hungry and it’s time to pick up the kids. You’ve got 2+ kids in the car, everyone is irritable and tired and one of them dares to inch his little finger across the imaginary line of division between their carseats. The screaming begins. The older one grabs the little one’s blankie and tosses it on the (filthy) car floor. Little one starts bawling. Older one won’t apologize or cooperate. You’ve got your arm painfully twisted behind your seat grasping desperately for a blankie you can’t reach while tossing goldfish crackers at the both of them in an attempt to quiet the hollering. Also you’re trying to navigate rush hour traffic and there’s no way you can pull over and count to 10. You start losing your (fragile) cool. Does this sound familiar?
Now picture this instead: Both kids are too distracted to bug each other, and too focused to talk or harass you with endless questions about the meaning of life while you’re hoping that you weren’t speeding because oh crap was that a cop car?! Everyone arrives home with enough sanity and patience left to get through the dreaded dinner time hour. Isn’t that better?!
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My Secret Weapon
I stumbled upon the answer to car-time madness completely by accident. It is beautiful in it’s simplicity. Ready?
Stories on tape.
Books on CD.
Whatever you want to call them. Short, simple stories with musical accompaniment. They are the answer to this mama’s prayers.
At Christmas we were gifted with a copy of Beethoven Lives Upstairs. I remembered it vaguely from my childhood, so I thought why not play it in the car instead of Veggietales? It’s a lovely tale of some of the details of Beethoven’s life through the eyes of his young neighbour combined with his compositions.
The transformation in my kids behaviour was instantaneous. My husband and I couldn’t believe it. They calmed right down so they could listen to the story and they were soothed by the beautiful music. Those 2 wild boys barely opened their mouths for an entire 20 minutes. What voodoo magic was this?!
Why it Works
Initially I thought my boys would get bored of the instrumental music that contained no bubbly, irritating, high pitched rhymes that get stuck in your head. But it was the opposite. They were entranced.
I think there have been studies done on the effect of orchestral music vs radio noise on one’s mood. I’m sure science backs me up on this. And guess what dear mamas? Beethoven doesn’t get stuck in your head on repeat. It won’t go round and round in your brain at all hours of the night and day. It’s nothing short of wonderful.
But I think it’s the combination of story and music that does the trick. The music is soothing and the story is captivating. The kids need to be quiet if they don’t want to miss any parts of the story.
Why I Love It
I love this solution for the obvious reason that it keeps my kids calm in the car. But there are so many added benefits!
It helps us avoid turning to the radio in a desperate attempt to keep the kids entertained and quiet. Have you listened to the radio lately? Not only is most of the music not remotely child-friendly (is popular music getting worse or am I just getting really old?) but I find even the announcers are often inappropriate. It used to be that you could count on certain stations to keep it clean while others were a little racier, but now no one holds back. And I’m terrified to listen to the news with my kids around because there is a massive amount of horrifying insanity happening in the world these days. I never thought I’d have to protect my kids from the radio, but I do.
These CDs are educational. (yup, I just turned into my mother. I’m so very old.) But seriously. They introduce a little culture into their young minds and challenge them to think about what they’re listening to. After the home run of Beethoven Lives Upstairs, we’ve also purchased Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage which has been a success too. (Obviously one child prefers Beethoven and the other Mozart, but there are much worse things they could be fighting about.)
We have interesting discussions. Beethoven caused my 5 year old to ask what it means to be deaf and how do you talk to a person who is deaf? These questions led to a larger discussion about disability and how people manage who don’t have the use of all of their senses. I don’t know how else a conversations like that would have come up!
Planning Makes Perfect
If you’re really on the ball (there’s about a 30/70 chance for me) then you’ll be prepared with a non-messy snack for the kiddos to eat in the car while they listen. You’ll be guaranteed a peaceful 20 ish minutes. And sometimes that can make all the difference.
Your turn. What tricks have you discovered for keeping your kids calm in the car?