Car Talk


Have you ever thought, “If I’m a stay-at-home parent, why am I spending so much time in the car?” Whether you’re on your way to the grocery store or cruising cross country in the family minivan, take advantage of that “captive” time to communicate and connect with your children. Entertainment Console

There was a time before in-car DVD players, GameBoys and other gizmos when families actually entertained one another.
Eight-year-old Noah collects the kind of riddles that seem to stick around for generations. “What has four wheels and flies?” “I don’t know, Noah,” you innocently counter. “A garbage truck.” Cue laughter. Three-year-old Caleb doesn’t really get it until you explain it to him, but then he relishes telling you the same riddle a few days later.

Can you tell your children’s favorite stories by heart? Classic folk tales continue to reassure with the triumphs of good over evil. The best of them can have everyone in the car chiming in with such lines as “he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house in!”

Rearview Mirror

Some of the most beloved stories turn out to be the ones starring your children. Being the main character of a story – whether true or make-believe – satisfies a young child’s continual need to be noticed. When you “tell the one about when I was a baby and . . .” as Caleb often requests, he is not only the main character, but in every repetition of the tale he is reminded of how much he means to you.

Your vast store of memories goes back to before your children’s lives, and even before your own. Re-tell the anecdotes of your life and your ancestors’ for your children to get a sense of family history, family values and the common threads that are woven across generations.


The future is another limitless realm for car conversation. Start planning tonight’s dinner menu or tomorrow’s outing. Help your children to look further ahead, to plan an upcoming vacation, or brainstorm ideas for when the cousins come to stay for a week this summer.
And even further ahead? Child development research suggests that children who hold positive images of their future selves are more likely to follow them through and achieve success. What are your children’s dreams for who they will be in their future families, careers and communities? As you encourage bringing clarity to their distant visions, you can talk them through the steps they’ll need to take to reach them.

Navigational System

It’s not enough to know where you want to go, you must know how to get there. Car time can be used for the ongoing discussion of how daily choices can lead to a fulfilling life. Jordan knows, at least for right now, that he wants to be a veterinarian. Recently, Jordan and Dad got into a discussion on the way home from the vet’s office about college. There were several diplomas and certificates on the wall, representing years of higher education and continuing schooling. Suddenly Jordan realized that last marking period’s grades and next year’s course choices were stepping stones towards his future. Being responsible about his school work meant he was on his way to the life of his choosing.

Steering Wheel

There are many turns throughout one’s life, especially in childhood. What pulls a child in one direction or another?
At ten, Mariah has had some steady friends since preschool, as well as lost a few and gained a few through moves and changing interests. Friendships tend to be a reflection of ourselves – ideally making us feel good about who we are. Enveloping her circle of friends are the adult influences of all their parents, plus school, scouts, church, and other adult-organized activities.

Popular culture can have its pull on our children, too. Listening to Mariah’s opinions of the latest fads, fashions and celebrity antics, you can steady her course in the right direction with your wise and caring commentary.

Which will be the significant pulls on Mariah’s life? Time in the car can be well spent discussing all the influences that lead to new ideas and experiences, ultimately shaping what she believes and how she behaves. As the odometer in your car adds up the miles of your parenting journey, be sure to keep the conversation rolling.

The author is a child development specialist who works with parents, professionals and children through individual counseling and group workshops.