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growing up: toddler

Road Rules for Toddlers

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

My husband and I travel in the Christian music group "foreverafter," and our 3-year-old always comes with us. Along the way, we've learned some clever strategies for keeping our child happy in the car:

Plan ahead. When we have a long trip, we leave at 6 or 7 p.m. After a few hours in the seat, our daughter falls asleep for the night and we can drive for hours without stopping. If your child is a night owl, reverse the strategy and leave a few hours before she'd normally wake up. Let her keep sleeping in the car.

Bring toys that will occupy your child for a long time. We bring a laptop computer with our daughter's favorite "Sesame Street" CD-ROM that she'll play with for hours. Her "Etch-A-Sketch" holds her interest for at least 30 minutes. We also purchased a $5 imitation Walkman for her to listen to books on tape. This way, she can hear the same story over and over without driving us nuts.

Take enough food to feed a small army so you never run out of choices. We even play a game where Jamey, my husband, tosses goldfish crackers to our daughter from the front seat and she digs around her car seat for them. Silly as it sounds, she loves this game.

To make restaurant meals manageable, divide and conquer. One of us will order the food while the other watches our daughter play in the lobby, the bathroom, anywhere she can run around. When the food arrives, we'll eat while she plays at the table, then take her meal in a to-go box. Not only does she get to expend some energy, but eating in the car keeps her busy for the next half hour of travel time.

Schedule pit stops around your child's needs. If our daughter is crying endlessly or just needs to get out and wiggle, we stop for food or gas or a bathroom break, whether we need it or not.

Even if your child is toilet-trained, consider using pull-ups on the road. Trust me on this one.

One final tip: While you might be tempted to do a quick diaper change in the back of the van or let your child move around a little in the car so you can keep making good time, never, ever take your child out of the car seat while the car is moving. What's a few minutes compared to your child's life?

? Mother and musician

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