7 Ways To Entertain Your Kids In D.C. Traffic, Since Crying Is Not An Option

Anyone who lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area knows that traffic can strike at any time. (And yes, it will strike every time.) You might think you're taking a quick jaunt to the mall, and you end up in the car for an hour, grasping at the last threads of your sanity. A simple errand with kids in tow stretches out over years (OK, maybe not years, but a long time), and frankly, it's impossible to get anything done. So how do you keep your kids entertained in DC traffic? Well ...

Aside from trying everything short of giving up and going home (which, for the record, is a totally viable option), there's only so much you can do in a car with less-than-thrilled kids who are eager and anxious to get out and move and break and destroy things. There's only so many "we're almost there!" lies you can tell them before they catch on that no, we're not almost there — in fact we're not even moving!

So before you resort to banging your head against the steering wheel (again, totally fair — you won't get any judgments from me), there are a few tricks of the trade you can try before you give up and try to get into an exit lane. (Fair warning: it's probably going to take awhile.)

Here are some tips I've picked up over the last couple years of surviving traffic jam after jam.

Give Them A Mirror


So this isn't exactly an activity, but it's a real life-saver. These mirrors are lightweight and securely attached to the headrest in front of your infant so you can look in the rearview mirror and see the reflection of your baby. When your baby is crying and you can't see them, it's stressful. When your baby isn't making any sound and you can't see them, it's stressful. When you're stuck in traffic and you can't get to your baby, knowing that they are OK (albeit cranky) is a huge relief.

Plus, babies love looking at themselves. They're like, literally the only people on the earth thrilled to see their own reflections.

Keep A Secret Surprise Stash


New toys are magical things. Kids become entranced. In my experience, newly-rediscovered toys solicit the same reaction. So go through your toy collection and throw together a bag of things your kid hasn't seen in a while. Keep these in the front seat for emergencies.

And pray they're thrilled when they see them.

Give 'Em Something To Play With


This falls into the same category as new toys. I've found that it can really help if you focus on sensory exploration. Your kids are stuck in their seats, so engage their senses with the toys of your choosing. Find things that feel new and different, that light up when you smack them, or that crinkle.

Play The Name Game

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

Load up your phone with songs from movies your kid loves. Or just sing them. My kids love naming the movies the songs are from. Listening to music is well and good, but turn it into a game, and the time flies by. (And you can easily drown out the whining.)

Repeat After Me: Candy.

flickr/Daniel Oines

I'm not too proud to admit that sometimes I bring out the big guns: sugar. This is perhaps not dentist-approved, but nothing keeps squirmy kids happier than a handful of confection. Bonus points: one of my kids gets car sick and mint candy really seems to soothe him.

Give The Kids An Education!

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

I love audiobooks. Half of the ones I buy are books I can enjoy with my kids. My 5 year old loves Henry Huggins (narrated by Neil Patrick Harris!) and we all love some Dr. Seuss. You can also get favorite movies narrated on CD with actual audio from the movie. (This seems to be a real selling point for my kids.)

Try All The Usual Suspects

flickr/Ted Eytan

The classics are great with older kids. Look for letters of the alphabet on road signs. Search for colors of the rainbow. Even "Simon Says" with actions they can do from their car seats works. My five-year-old loves to be asked math questions. My 2 year old loves to tell me the sounds that different animals make. The sky's the limit.

Images: Olivia Hinebaugh (2); Elvert Barnes, Joe Shlabotnik, MelisaTG, MissMessie, Daniel Oines, Ted Eytan/Flickr