Dear Miss Faith,
My 3.5 year old son gets upset when we’re driving and I turn or even change lanes, but he has decided that he doesn’t want me to. I’ve tried being light-hearted and turning it into a game, and I’ve tried “I’m the driver and I’m in charge,” but nothing seems to be breaking the pattern. What can I do?
This definitely sounds like a who’s-in-charge issue. Certainly you could ignore him (and I’m sure you do many times) but that doesn’t really “solve” the problem. So what could you try?
One thing you could try is to us exaggeration/humor. “Oh, you’re the navigator, huh? Should I turn here? Should I turn here? Should I turn here?” Say it for every street, in a funny way. Then, “Oh my goodness, thank goodness I have you here. We’d get lost every time! We’d be trying to drive to the store and we’d probably end up somewhere else altogether! Where might we end up?” (Wait to see if he has a suggestion. If not,) “I know, I bet we’d end up at school! Or down at the river! Then I’d be like, ‘Hey, they don’t have any milk for sale here!’ I’d be looking for eggs but all I’d find are turtle eggs!” Keep going, making it more and more ridiculous. Most kids can’t resist. In this way you’re taking the topic at hand (him telling you where to go) and you’re saying “yes” in your imagination, making it bigger and funnier until it’s funny. It also transforms the discussion until you’re actually talking about something else altogether –in this case, making an omelet out of turtle eggs.
If he doesn’t go for it, or tries to interrupt to pitch a little fit, then lose your fun for a moment. “Hey, no thanks. If you need to whine, I’ll turn the radio on so I don’t have to listen. But I’d rather have a conversation with you!” If you make doing things your way VERY fun, and matter-of-factly tune out when he doesn’t, then he may start to choose the more fun way. If he chooses to whine, you can turn the radio up. After a few minutes (not too long), turn it down and say something fun and inviting: “I spy, with my little eye, something…RED.” If he plays with you, great. If he continues to whine and be demanding, then, “Oh, you’re not ready to play. OK. I’ll listen to the music again.” If you make it clear that you’re available to interact, but it needs to be in a pleasant way, then it’s his choice whether to do it or not. You don’t mind either way, although you’d prefer the nicer way. By being clear with your own boundaries, not being reactive if he’s not ready to go along, but making your preference much more attractive, you may be able to regain equilibrium and enjoyment of your car trips again. Give it a try!