On the Road: Commuting with Your Young Children

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On the Road: Commuting with Your Young Children

As Linda Mason, Chairman and Founder of Bright Horizons Family Solutions and author of The Working Mother’s Guide to Life: Strategies Secrets, and Solutions suggests, the commute home can be a time when you purposely move out of your rushing mode and allow yourself and your child to slow down a little. If your child has been in a fairly structured schedule during the day, it will be nice to have a more relaxed approach to your departure and return home.

  • The trip home is a good time to talk about your child’s day. Before you leave, look at the daily plans and try to ask your child’s teacher for a highlight or two of the day. You can initiate the conversation, as children will often not volunteer this information. Even with nonverbal children, it is good and useful to say, “I heard you played with water today.”
  • Talk about what you will do when you get home so your child can visualize the next step.
  • Don’t rush the trip. After a structured day, let your child slow down a little.

Take turns making the commute with your spouse or partner. It is helpful for each of you to have this time with your child, to get to know the child care situation, and to give each other a break. Here are other suggestions from parents and teachers:

  • Hungry children (and adults) make lousy traveling companions. Keep a few nonperishable items in your car for snacks so that you don’t have to remember to pack snacks each day. Sandwich bags or small boxes of cereal could be available for the trip to child care; at the end of the day, finger foods such as pretzels or crackers may help your child make it to dinner time. Make the creation of these “road food” plans a parent-child activity. To make it extra special, put a note or prize in some of the bags.
  • If your child becomes upset during the trip, it usually doesn’t make sense to stop. Talk reassuringly to your child and let him or her know approximately when he or she will arrive home or at child care. Make your terms as concrete as possible: “We have to pass the water tower and the mall and then we will be at your center. I will take you out of your car seat as soon as we get there.” “I know you must be tired from a long day. We’ll be home soon and we’ll see mommy and your kitty and have our dinner together.”

Music and Stories

  • Music is obviously great for the car. Choose some CDs or audiotapes that you will both enjoy and won’t get tired of.
  • Singing in the car can be fun and a great shared language experience. You don’t have to sing well, just have fun doing it. Made-up, silly songs are often favorites of children.
  • Audiotapes of stories and poetry are available in libraries, bookstores, and children’s toy stores. They don’t replace great conversation, but are a great change of pace.
  • Expect that repetition will be important to your child. He or she will probably want to hear favorite songs and stories more often than you want to hear them.


  • Play with geography and landmarks. “I see the bridge. That means we are almost at the center!”
  • For older preschoolers, make a game out of looking for certain things. You can look for letters, colors, or objects (taxi cabs, trucks, exit signs etc.) If you are driving through an area with billboards or store signs, ask, “Can you find some of the letters in your name on that sign?”
  • Think about what you want your child to learn and consider your messages. Pointing out the fast food outlets are fun for children, but is that the landscape on which you want them to focus?
  • On the trip to the center, ask preschool children to predict who will be there and what will happen.

Commute Kits

  • If you commute with your child by train or bus, pack (or have your child pack) a small travel bag of books, small one-piece toys or teethers for infants, and wipe-off boards (for example, “Etch-a-Sketch” makes a small travel-size version of their toy), or even a colorful clipboard with paper and a chunky pencil attached for older preschoolers. Make the contents of the bag special by reserving their use exclusively for the commute.
  • If you have a longer commute, you may want to create an activity kit by punching holes across the bottom of several heavy-duty, resealable plastic bags and putting them in a three-ring binder. Fill each “bag” page with non-messy art supplies or toys.

Originally published on BrightHorizons