Managing Behavior in the Car


As a parent, one of your greatest responsibilities is preventing or correcting problematic behavior your children conduct. But, what if you are in a position that makes such a responsibility difficult? What if you’re driving and your child or even multiple children decide to engage in behavior? This could be a dangerous situation that poses a threat not only on you as a driver who is attempting to concentrate on the road, but also the passengers in your children.

One of the best ways in managing problematic behavior in a vehicle is to take steps in preventing the behavior in the first place before the child is even in the vehicle. Take time to observe their behavior; often, the behavior can be triggered by various things. Your child may simply dislike where the car ride is taking them. Perhaps they are in need of some sort of sensory distraction. Perhaps they don’t like something atmospheric about the vehicle or someone with whom they may be sharing the car ride.

Behavior in the Car

In many cases, children often crave some sort of sensory experience. Perhaps the car ride is boring to them, and behaviors such as shouting or kicking seats or bugging other passengers is a way to vent out that boredom. This is relatively easy to prevent. Bring things that stimulate them and gain their attention. Some children enjoy listening to music during car rides, and it alleviates the need for some problematic behaviors from occurring altogether. You can also try engaging in conversation with them. Preventing behaviors in children can be as easy as giving your children something else to focus on during a car ride.

A child may also engage in problematic behaviors due to triggers of a negative connotation. Perhaps you as a parent attempt to bring up poor performance in school or some needs back home that must be addressed that a child doesn’t like. Putting a child in a negative mind set by addressing negative topics of conversation can also work to trigger poor behavior. If it isn’t crucial to discuss such matters, perhaps the matters can wait until you and the child are in a more suitable position for you to address potential, problematic behavior.

As strange as it may sound, ignorance can also work to quell problematic behavior. If your child is acting inappropriately in a vehicle that proves no worse than a nuisance, perhaps it is in your best interest to ignore such behavior. Being loud, engaging in some annoying activity that still does not necessarily distract you from your responsibility as a driver, these are behaviors that could potentially be put down by ignorance. Sometimes, this behavior is a call for attention, and feeding the behavior with attention creates the possibility that you only stir the child to continue engaging in such behavior, perhaps even increasing the behavioral output itself. By ignoring minor behavior, you can make a child realize organically that they are engaging in inappropriate behavior and dampen its effects, literally without a word. If you are in a situation that involves multiple children, addressing the better-behaved child can also be a way to let your child organically realize their behavior is inappropriate. Giving positive attention and reinforcement to a well-behaved child and acknowledging them for such behavior not only encourages them to continue behaving in such a way, but also provides a dampening effect for the problematic behavior simultaneously.

Sometimes, a child simply does not have incentive for good behavior in a vehicle. Younger children are not given to realize the importance of good behavior in a vehicle. As a parent, it might be invaluable to let your child know upfront of any expectations you might have for their behavior in a vehicle or give them small incentive for vehicle rides. Starting and/or ending vehicle rides on pleasurable notes can give a child much greater incentive for good behavior in a vehicle.

If your child engages in dangerous behavior such as unbuckling their seat belts or car seats during a car ride, it is imperative to be as efficient with addressing this behavior as possible. As a driver, this can be a very distracting behavior with no way to address it immediately at all. The best possible option for you is to find a safe place to pull your vehicle over to ensure the safety of everyone in it while you address the behavior in a safer and more effective way. The last thing you want to do is to try ignoring this behavior. It is just too dangerous, not to mention against the law. There are many devices you can use to prevent such behaviors from continuing if they become consistently problematic. If you have exhausted all of these options and your child still engages in this dangerous behavior, it might be in your best interest as a parent to seek professional help to determine the nature of the behavior for your child.

Besides managing behaviors with incentives or using strategic methods such as reinforcement, there are plenty of devices you can utilize as barriers for preventing problematic behavior. These work to alleviate behavior between siblings and they can work to protect you as a driver from distracting behaviors that aren’t necessarily rendered as dangerous. But, above all, the best way to manage problematic behavior in the car is to take preventive measures to ensure it doesn’t need to happen in the first place.

Author Bio:

Jacob BoneyJacob Boney, Psy.D. BCBA-D created Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services with the goal of making behavior analysis available to parents and professionals who wish to practice, teach and disseminate behavior science. For more information please visit his website:

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