Are we there yet?

We've a long way to go before kids shut up.
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The Independent Culture
GOING ON long car journeys with children is a special kind of torture. Every parent knows that motorways are worst because the kids know that you cannot stop (although many a desperate parent has screeched to a halt on the hard shoulder) and will increase their punching, pinching and asking for the loo/sweets/estimated time of arrival while giving sharp kicks to the backs of the front seats. You shout into the windscreen, not daring to take your eyes off the road for a second. You would sell your soul to get them to shut up and behave...

But would you sell it to PlayStation? Those clever people at Sony have invented a new and no doubt expensive in-car PlayStation which is fitted into the back of one of the front seats. Call me a cynic, but even spending serious amounts of money on computer hardware will not solve this problem. Firstly, PlayStation is not a toy requiring mellow concentration. My son gets wired up and stressed and inevitably comes out of one of those games in a worse mood than when he went into it.

Secondly, there will be hot disputes over who sits in front of the screen, even in two-player mode. And what if you have got three children?Sorry Sony, it won't work.

In truth nothing will definitely work, although you can improve your chances of survival with the use of common sense. Creating territorial boundaries between each child is a good idea, using a rolled-up blanket. A food and drinks bag will help - and do include things you might usually balk at, like individual bottles of the sickly-sweet Sunny D. Of course, some children are good travellers, like my son who enjoys having a captive audience with which to discuss natural history. "What do you think is faster, the mallard duck or the golden eagle?" he asks, magisterially. "Think carefully because I think the answer will surprise you."

Child-care expert Penelope Leach gives detailed advice in the wonderful Baby and Child on how to cope with the in-car toddler. This is the most difficult age-group to amuse because toddlers can't bear to be cooped up for any amount of time. Leach recommends bags full of presents which they open every time they see a bus, six horses in a field, or whatever. If that fails she begs us not to be shocked by her suggestion that "many children travel happily if allowed to `shoot' passing motorists out the window." She also suggests the "silence" game: "Challenge him to keep silent for a whole minute. He enjoys watching time pass, you get at least 20 seconds peace and it sometimes ends in sleep." An alternative is timed breath-holding. Now steady on, Penelope...

The best solution yet, however, was my stepsister's. She casually mentioned that she had bought some cheap personal hi-fis (very cheap at local markets), a selection of tapes and plugged both her boys in. It worked like a dream on our recent long car journey to Cornwall. It was almost blissful, almost like being alone. I felt quite guilty listening to the radio and ignoring them, but at least we arrived safe and calm.

And I am sure as hell going to give it another try on our trip to Scotland at half-term.