How to Stay Sane During Your Carpool Shift: Tips From My (Messy) Minivan to Yours

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Whether you are driving one child or have a full carload, the reality is: kids can be cranky. And in my car, cranky kids = a cranky driver.


I think I’m a pretty fun mom, but I’m also not afraid to remind my children—or any child on my watch—that there is an appropriate way to behave in the car.


Like please, if we are going 70 miles an hour on the freeway, don’t yell “Mom, I’m done with my banana!” and swing the peel around for me to take from you. Um, are you kidding me? Your peel, your problem (or should I say, your opportunity to come up with the solution, but I don’t always say it that way.)


Or screaming, for no reason at all other than they want to scream louder than the person sitting next to them. My worst nightmare.


To combat these *adorable* habits of children and not pull over screaming “Out! Out! All of you!” I try to come prepared before I pick up our carpool from school. Here are my must-have’s to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for everyone in the car (driver included).


PACK FOOD (and plenty of it)


I just taught my kids what “hangry” meant, it was time they could put a name to their behavior. Mine can be inconsolable if they don’t eat the second their brain tells them they want food.


I remember one family I grew up where the mom always had snacks in a big container in her minivan. Cheetos, Doritos, candy—it was a every kids dream. I was SO jealous that my friend had this at her disposal. But now that I’m a mom, I don’t know how that parent did it. Kids having free reign of any kind of junk food they want seems to create a monster, making dinnertime that much harder.


Now I’m certainly not saying that I only serve homemade, whole-grain, no sugar, gluten-free foods to my kids and their friends. No no. But rather I come armed at pick-up with a few choices—dairy, grains, fruit, and let them decide what they want. Fixes the hunger without unleashing the sugar hounds.


If you need some inspiration, check out Lisa Leake’s website 100 Days of Real Food. I’m obsessed with this simple and beautiful resource for easy and healthy food for families. I’ve referenced her 85 Snack Ideas for Kids (and Adults) list hundreds of times. And I may have the pickiest eaters living in my house, but Lisa’s Whole Spelt Pumpkin Muffins are devoured every time we make them, last about a week, and are easy to transport. Throw those, some string cheese, and apple slices in your car and you’re bound to have a peaceful carpool ride (at least for the first 3 minutes).




We all know that music can instantly change our mood, and it works wonders for kids. The key I’ve discovered for our carpool is this: give the car one song request to start—any song they want (even the dreaded Gummy Bear song that they know drives me insane). Starting off by giving them the power to choose does the trick, and after that, it’s all about the Spotify playlist. We’ve even given my seven year old her own list, “Josie’s Jams” on Spotify. We add songs for her when she discovers them, and her friends know that this is what plays in our car (and they love it). No shouting to me from the backseat for various song requests, no song on repeat, no more feeling like an unglorified DJ. Just sitting back and being surprised at what’s up next.




Warning: this can backfire on you depending on the age of the kids and their level of competition. But generally, suggesting a game in the car works to by some time and keep kiddos entertained. gives quite an extensive list of 53 Fun Car Games for Kids. Our go-to’s are 20 questions and “Bingo” (simply saying bingo when you see a yellow car—I know, sounds boring but it keeps them engaged, and there are a surprising number of yellow cars on the road once you start looking for them. Go figure). Having a few to suggest when things get squirrely is extremely helpful.




This is actually my favorite tactic. Kids are following rules all day at school, so once in the car, it’s nice to just let them chill. Telling them about your day to get the ball rolling or asking one of your carpool kids a question can start a great dialogue, and once you back out of it, it can be really interesting to listen to where they take it. It’s amazing how soon they forget that there is a grown-up in the car, and you’ll wind up learning a lot (maybe more than you wanted to know 😉




I have kids in grade school, so we are not to the phase where they have their own cell phone. We do bring the iPad on road trips because, well, we’re not masochists. But as for daily driving, they don’t do screentime yet, so I plead ignorance in this topic. My thought is that a car full of pre-teens on their cell phones would be both quiet and disconcerting. What are they doing? Looking at? There’s no way to monitor this from the front seat, and since you are 12x’s more likely to be distracted with kids in the car than on your cell phone (crazy statistic!) you really need to keep your eyes and brain on the road. This letter from a parent to her 13 year old helped give me a sense of what we are in for. So for now I’ll say that my best tip is: Your Car, Your Rules.


I hope this helps bring you a little peace on your next scheduled driving duty (made easier by Pogo, of course!). And as always…


Happy Carpooling!


—Julia Selfridge


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