How to Move Cross Country With Kids (And Keep Your Sanity)

Emmet Pierce
April 25, 2017
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Children often misbehave on short drives, so imagine what could happen if you had to drive all the way across the country with your kids.

Bickering, crying and repeated questions about when the trip will end are commonplace during even brief trips with children. You may be able to ignore such behavior if you’re headed to the local grocery store. However, if you’re relocating to a home across the country and anticipate a four- to five-day drive, you’re going to need to develop some coping skills.

Here are some tips for keeping your kids happy and your eyes on the road during a long move:

Adopt a Set of Rules

Elisabeth Stitt, the author of “Parenting as a Second Language,” says it helps if you can to prepare your children for what to expect ahead of time.

Consider holding a family meeting to let them know the reasons for the move and how long the drive will take. Tell them that rough play, yelling, or throwing things won’t be tolerated. During your meeting, explain that their safety is at stake, since distracted drivers are more likely to get into traffic accidents.

Family posing together

Remain Calm, No Matter What

No matter how well you plan, things can go wrong when you’re taking kids on a motor trip. If you have two or more children, someone is bound to pick a fight with their sibling or start screaming, just when you need to keep your mind on your driving.

Because kids model their behavior after their parents, the worst thing you can do is lose your temper. Doing so will upset everyone in the car and prolong the chaos.

Make up your mind in advance to remain calm no matter what happens. When trouble arises, be prepared to pull off the road safely at the soonest opportunity to quietly sort things out.

Bring Toys and Games

Kids become bored easily. You can’t expect them to quietly sit still for six to eight hours each day, as you make your way to your new home.

If you have a portable media player, make sure to bring along plenty of programming for them to watch. This “can be a great distraction on long car trips,” said Courtney Rodrigue Hubscher, a counselor and mental health therapist.

If you have a Netflix account, you can now download movies and shows to your device to watch later—which is perfect for remote areas when your data connection gets spotty.

Board games are great as long as things don’t get too competitive. Dr. Fran Walfish, a psychologist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent,” warns that some games “can stimulate competitiveness and rivalry over winning and losing.”

Three sullen children in back of estate car

Reward Your Kids for Good Behavior

It may sound like bribery, but rewards can be an effective way to keep kids calm. For example, you can allow children who behave well to have a dessert of their choice after dinner. If someone misbehaves and loses their special treat, remind them that they can earn a dessert the following day.

Hubscher suggests periodically introducing new toys to your children to decrease boredom. Just don’t give them away all at once. She suggests using them “as an incentive for good behavior throughout the trip.”

Take Plenty of Breaks

Kids need frequent breaks from driving to use the restroom and get some exercise. You’ll have more patience if you accept the fact that traveling with your children will slow things down. You can introduce an element of fun by planning your rest stops in advance. Try to include some parks or roadside attractions where your kids can play after sitting for hours in the car, suggests Stitt.

Exercise breaks should improve child behavior and make it easier for kids to sleep at the end of your daily drives. If there are interesting landmarks along the route, work in some tourist stops to make the trip more fun for everyone.

Keep Kids Safe During Unloading

Once you safely reach your new home you’ll have a new problem: figuring out what to do with the kids while your possessions are being unloaded into your new home.

A good solution is to designate a responsible adult to keep the children occupied and out of harm’s way. You should plan to set up their rooms first if possible, so that they can settle in while you finish unloading.


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