Scientist Finally Finds a Formula to Prevent Kids' Tantrums in Cars

Entertainment and food are key

It's a scientific development parents have been awaiting for generations: How to stop kids from completely freaking out during car rides. If you've ever ridden with a child, you know that the occasional backseat meltdown is par for the course. A statistician has compiled a precise formula to predict the likelihood of a tantrum. Read on to find out how you can preserve the peace the next time you're traveling with little ones.

Entertainment and Food Are Key


Dr. James Hind of Nottingham Trent University interviewed 2,000 parents and found that the average time it takes a child to throw a tantrum during a car ride is 70 minutes. He used that and other data to compile the following formula: 

T = 70 + 0.5E + 15F – 10S

Translation: The probability of a tantrum is reduced every minute a child is entertained (E). Food (F) can delay a backseat meltdown by 15 minutes. But having siblings (S) in the car was found to shorten tantrum-free time by 10 minutes.  The statistician also found that the average child will ask "are we there yet?" 32 minutes into a car ride, and will ask four times total. 

Unlimited Snacks Not the Answer


"If you have only one child, and you can keep them entertained and occasionally bribe them with food, you could manage two hours of tantrum-free driving," said Hind. "Unfortunately, two children with no entertainment and no snacks can brew up a tantrum in just 40 minutes. Snacks are important but there is a limit to how much they can help, so keep them to two an hour max. Entertainment is key, but even that fails with really long journey times."

What Are the Main Causes of Backseat Tantrums?


The research found that boredom is the #1 cause of backseat tantrums, as cited by 68% of parents, followed by the trip taking too long (62%) and kids being hungry (57%). "Taking breaks to 'reset the clock' is important for preventing tantrums, as well as making sure you are not tired while driving," said Hind.

Tantrum Hacks


The UK Sun recently published a series of hacks to forestall kids' tantrums during car rides. They include planning exercise breaks; traveling at night, so part of the journey occurs when kids are sleeping; talk about the importance of seat belt wearing before the trip; and play interactive games that involve all of you. 

Just Ignore It (If You Can)


An expert told Parents magazine that if a tantrum happens, the best thing to do is just ignore it (unless it involves aggression toward others). "Turn your music up, sing yourself a little song, and concentrate on the road," suggests Marni Axelrad, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. If you can't concentrate, pull over, but keep ignoring the tantrum-thrower until the drama ends.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more
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