Lots of us will be facing long car journeys with babies and toddlers this Christmas and there might be that nagging feeling at the back of your mind that it’s not going to be easy. Once you’ve ticked off the Christmas shopping list, wrapped the presents, packed your bag, packed your little ones’ bags (and then probably re-packed them twice to double check they’ve got their favourite comforter and spare sleeping bag!), you still have that little niggle at the back of your mind about the journey. I want to reassure you that it is possible to prepare for a long car journey with a baby or todder and that, like a lot of things at this time of year, the success is all in the planning. Whilst there’s no secret formula to keeping little ones happy in the back seat, I always suggest the following:
With small babies, try not to feed them too close to the start of your long car journey, as they can become uncomfortable. This is particularly important for babies with reflux, as they can struggle more in car seats. Instead, allow at least half an hour for your little one to digest their milk and then they will be much more comfortable in the car seat.
If you’re bottle feeding, make sure that you have a spare bottle made up and everything you need ready to hand. You can buy handy bottle warmers that can save you a queue at service stations. If you’re breast feeding, make sure you’re wearing suitable clothes for a quick feed, if necessary! If you do have to stop on your journey to feed your baby, it’s worth making sure they are properly winded and comfortable, before returning them to their car seat.
For toddlers, make sure that they have had a decent meal before you set off and pack plenty of their favourite snacks with you for your bag in the car. Remember that being stuck in traffic can be even more boring for a toddler than it can for us, so plenty of colourful fruit cut into festive shapes or easy to open things, such as rice cakes, can save you a lot of bother when you’re passing them around in the car, just don’t forget the wet wipes! Another good tip, if your toddler is older, is to make them a mini lunch box with easy-to-open pots, that way they can feed themselves and feel independent.
If you can, always try to time your long car journeys to coincide with naps. It’s much better to travel when they’re sleepy, rather than wide awake and frustrated. I’m sure that a lot of you will be thinking about the traffic and congested motorways, but you’re always much better to let toddlers run off some steam first, then let them doze in the car. If it’s not too cold or wet, a quick blast around your local park or outside space will do them the world of good before you strap them into the car. If the weather’s dreadful, then anything that you can set up for them the night could save you rushing around in the morning – a simple box with some of their current toys wrapped up could be a saviour when you’re trying to work through your ‘to do’ list.
For babies, it’s best to let them have a good long nap in the car, so plan their awake time at home accordingly. Leave their playmat or favourite toys out and pack them last, that way their time at home will feel like their normal routine.
If you haven’t seen yet, I’ve just launched my own Baby Sleep Tip cards, which have 28 different tips to help babies become settled sleepers. They could be a really help for your Christmas long car journey.
In the car
If possible, it can help for one parent to sit next to baby in the back of the car and use a dummy to help keep baby calm. Stroking their head and singing familiar songs in a soothing voice can also be really calming to them.
Keep older children occupied with toys, chatting and music – you can get some ‘great’ (!) songs for toddlers on CD or on your phone that you’ll all be singing along to, whether you want to or not! Classic games such as ‘I Spy…’ are great for keeping older children entertained … think back to the long journeys of your childhood and use any of the old games that you used to enjoy.
A bag of books can be super helpful on a long car journey, both for babies and toddlers. Babies love looking at high contrast images and toddlers find stories really calming, so I’d recommend taking a few with you that you can alternate. They’ll also double up for bedtime stories when you’re away, helping little one to forge special memories of their Christmas trip.
It is possible to have a calm car journey over Christmas, just a little bit of planning can make the biggest difference. Have a wonderful, safe journey this Christmas and enjoy those festive, special times with your little ones.