If you’ve ever been crammed into a small space with an unruly child, then you’ll know that it’s a truly dreadful experience. Whether it’s a car with a broken air conditioner, travelling a long distance, or a caravan during a rainy summer’s day, it’s essential that children are provided with some sort of mental stimulation.
In this article, we’ll examine what distractions you might grant your children. While the primary purpose of these distractions is to keep your children quiet and out of trouble, there’s also an inherent good in keeping their minds occupied and stimulated. Let’s begin, shall we?
For obvious reasons, among the best games to play in closed space are those which require no other materials than the ones that nature has provided you all with: namely your brains, your eyes, and your voices. I spy is perhaps the most popular such example. It’s a game whose rules are familiar to almost everyone: players note objects in their field of vision, reveal the first letters of those objects, and invite other players to guess that the object in question is. Of course, these objects must be concrete and easily-identifiable. Children are not going to be able to guess that ‘Q’ is for the Qashqai which just passed you in the overtaking lane.
This is a game which will tax your powers of deductive reasoning. Players think of people, and invite their opponents to guess who that person might be. Players are allowed to ask questions in order to narrow the field down before making their final guess. This game will allow children to practice lateral thinking – and for that reason alone it must surely be encouraged!
Most of the time, this game involves the use of post-it notes, which are placed on the foreheads of everyone playing – but for the purposes of ease of use while in a moving vehicle, this component of the game can be dispensed with.
If you’ve got a monopoly set lying around, and a deck of playing cards, then you’ve all the ingredients necessary for a game of poker. Alternatively, you might use a stack of pennies and two-pence pieces. The rules of poker are classic and universal – and yet there are many adults who’ve yet to learn them. A family break is a perfect opportunity to put that right.
The traditional name for this game is substantially ruder than the one given here, but the principle remains the same – whoever can lie most effectively, and detect their opponent’s lies, will be victorious. Players take it in turns to place matching groups of cards face-down on a pile in the centre, declaring the number and amount of cards each time.
Each card placed down must be either one lower or higher than the last one – except, of course, the players are able to lie. At any point, any player might call out the word ‘liar’ – and at this announcement, the last cards to be put down are revealed, and either the liar or the false-accuser must pick up the whole pile. The player to get rid of their entire pile first is the winner.
Monopoly is a classic board game in every sense. Over the years, hundreds of different variants on the formula have been issued – but the principle remains the same: travel the board, accumulate property, and fleece your opponents. Whoever is the last person standing is the winner.
This game is often derided as being too slow-paced and too long, but the truth is that a game of real monopoly, where the actual rules included in the game are followed, can be far quicker (and more fun, too).
Of course, if your children are hungry, then it’s unlikely that they’ll take much pleasure in another round of ‘I Spy’ – they’ll want to be fed. That’s why it’s essential to keep a steady supply of snacks on hand to fill the gap.
For this purpose, adults need a foodstuff that’s convenient, palatable and filling. After all, if a child is really hungry, than a packet of Quavers is not going to fill the gap – but then neither is a bagful of something less tasty, like raw almonds. You might wish to prepare something ahead of time – particularly if you know that your child likes a certain sort of food.
Food can also play a role in keeping children under control – acting as a proverbial carrot employed to encourage good behaviour (even if it isn’t a literal carrot). If you’ve got two unruly children in the back of your car, then explaining that whoever can remain silent for the longest gets a Mars bar might prove an effective tactic.
Drink is also worthy of mention. You’ll want to ensure that your children are comfortable and have adequate hydration – but if you’re in a car, then you’ll want to keep visits to the toilet to an absolute minimum. The last thing you want is for a foul-smelling accident to occur.
There are some substances which should generally be avoided when you’re crammed into a car. The most notable of these is caffeine, which is found in some fizzy drinks. Excessive quantities of caffeine will turn even the most mild-mannered child into a boisterous menace – since their smaller bodies are unable to metabolise the stuff quickly enough.
A similar warning can be attached to sugar, which is found in copious quantities in both soft drinks and fruit juices. While there’s no need to force your children to lead a monk-like existence during your travels, there’s also no sense in giving them treats that will make them hyperactive and troublesome. Of course, all children are different from one another, and will react in slightly different ways to different foods and drinks. Generally speaking, it’s best to err on the side of caution – the cramped confines of a moving vehicle is not the best place to road-test new and exotic treats.