Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rules in the Car Apply to All

When you live in a large metropolitan area like we do, you spend a lot of time waiting in the car. That is not a good thing when you have a boy who hates waiting as much as our son does.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kai’s anxiety surges whenever we are stuck in traffic, and he becomes the worst backseat driver you can imagine. He is constantly yelling at us to change lanes or go in a different direction. When we mentioned this to our son’s social worker at school, she came up with a suggestion for us – keep a visual reminder in the car of what Kai should not do, and along with that, a list of suggestions of things he can do instead.

With nothing else working, we decided it was worth a try. We create a laminated sheet that described two very simple rules for the car:
  1. No shouting, yelling, or screaming
  2. Do not tell the driver how to drive or where to go

Instead, I can:
  • Sing along with the music
  • Chew on my bracelet
  • Count how long the light signal is red
  • Write on my magic board
  • Ask for gum

We have tried this for a week now and have found that keeping these Car Rules handy has been helpful. When Kai has started to get upset, we showed him the rules and he quieted down right away. Sometimes he will choose one of the alternatives listed, but sometimes he will say that he doesn’t want to do any of those but will just be quiet.

The other day, my wife reported that she was driving with Kai in an area that had road construction. Traffic came to a stop when a construction vehicle blocked the road. It eventually moved off toward the side of the road, giving cars enough room to go around it. However, the car in front did not proceed. My wife and Kai waited. The car still did not go. They waited some more. Still no movement. Finally, it was too much to bear.

For my wife.

In a voice that was loud enough for Kai to hear, she said that the driver of the car in front should just go around the truck as there was plenty of room. Kai responded, “Mom, rule number two is ‘do not tell the driver how to drive or where to go.’”


Now, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was easy to think that Kai was not listening to us because we rarely got a response from him. These days, we have come to realize that he listens much more than we used to think, even when it appears like he is not paying attention.

So, we are going to have to be more careful of the things we say. But, you know what? It is nice to know that he is not preoccupied in his own world. And that he was able to calmly engage with Mom while patiently waiting in traffic.

Now that is the kind of backseat driving we will gladly tolerate.

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