How to Deal With Obnoxious Behavior in the Car

Dear Kid Whisperer,

Any thoughts on consequences for a kid who kicks the back of the seat in the car? -Trina, Moscow, Idaho


Dear Trina,

It is so important to take the time to train kids to use the behaviors necessary to have a safe, happy car environment that allows us to be calm and not drive the car into a ditch.

Here’s how I would train your kid:

Kid Whisperer leaves ten minutes early to get where he is going. Kid is in the seat behind Kid Whisperer.

Kid kicks Kid Whisperer’s seat.

Kid Whisperer (with a smile): Oh, boy (Kid Whisperer slowly and safely pulls over to the side of the road and stops). Yeesh. I will continue driving as soon as you are not making our trip dangerous by kicking my seat.

Kid Whisperer begins driving again when Kid stops kicking the seat.

Kid Whisperer: I notice you being safe in the car!

Kid Whisperer can repeat this as much as he likes. If kid never starts kicking again, Kid Whisperer is done. Kid Whisperer enjoys new, slightly nicer Kid.

If Kid starts kicking the seat again, or if she never stops, Kid Whisperer can keep pulling over, or, for the latter situation, Kid Whisperer can simply read a book or check his phone while standing outside the car, or with his back on the steering wheel, out of kicking range. In any case, once Kid Whisperer feels himself losing patience or sees that he might be late to his destination, he either keeps driving or starts driving while saying the following:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. We need to get going. This is going to be less than safe. I’m going to be allowing you to get better at this later. May God protect us. Here we go.

Kid Whisperer only drives in this situation if Kid is not big enough for her kicks to cause real and serious safety issues. If they are that big, Kid Whisperer will enlist a trusted adult to meet him at his car after being contacted by text or phone call. Kid will be transferred to Car #2, placed behind the passenger seat and driven to the destination (if Kid’s attendance is mandatory, i.e. school) or back to a supervised home if it is not.

Later, Kid Whisperer arranges four dining room table chairs facing the same way just like in a car: one behind the other. A large stuffed animal is in the left front chair.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. Yesterday you showed me that you really struggle with not kicking the seat in front of you. I am going to give you the chance to become an expert at sitting in cars without causing a problem. I have made a practice car for you. Mr. Peepers the Giraffe is going to pretend to be me, and you will practice not kicking my seat. How long do you need to practice, an hour or two hours?

Kid: This is emotional terrorism.

Kid Whisperer: Two hours it is. Feel free to load up on any books or non-electronic games. You can get as many as you want, but just like with a real car, once you load up, you can’t go get more stuff. Just so you stay in your seat, we will count that as quality practice time! We can do one hour tonight and one tomorrow.

Kid: This is weird.

Kid Whisperer: I’d say! As soon as you prove yourself to be a being-in-the-car-expert, you can start going places in the car again. Until then, you won’t leave home.

Kid: What about school?

Kid Whisperer: School transport will be done with you behind the passenger seat, and we can even count that as part of your practice time if you control your feet. As you practice, you can either talk with me as I make dinner, play with your toys, read your books, or some combination of the three. I will start counting the time as soon as you are seated in your seat while leaving Mr. Peeper’s seat alone.

Notice that this consequence is about practicing and learning positive behavior and not about inflicting pain on Kid. She can learn at her own pace. When done learning, she can again experience the benefits of parental transport.