Discipline in the Car

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Do you have any advice on how to handle discipline while in the car, particularly when siblings fight? As I see it, the options are limited. Time out can't be used. I try to prevent problems by making sure each child has his own entertainment (CDs, books, etc.). Also, I try to remember to have a discussion with the children before we leave as to what behavior is expected. Pulling over to the side of the road sometime helps for a short time, but it's not always practical to be pulling over multiple times and traffic conditions may not allow it. Help!


Pulling over is really the best answer. Did you read about that in one of the Positive Discipline books?

You say it isn't always practical (especially since you have to look for a safe place to pull over). Raising children (and taking time for training) is often inconvenient, but it is essential to get the long-term results we want with our children.

You also say it works some times for a short time. Pulling over some times and not others is the worst thing you can do to reinforce inappropriate behavior. When you pull over some times and not others, children get confused. They can't trust you to say what you mean and mean what you say. They learn to push for reactions. I promise that if you pull over a few times, consistently, you won't have to keep doing it because you have taught your children that you mean what you say. (More about this later.)

I'm guessing that the reason you think it is not practical is because (besides being inconvenient) it takes time and often causes lateness. Sometimes parents have to choose between being on time and taking time for training that is effective long-term.

So, during a calm time (perhaps during a family meeting), let your children know in advance that you will pull over if they fight and that you will start driving again as soon as they BOTH let you know they are ready to drive again. Ask, "What is your understanding of what I'm going to do when you fight?" Wait until they have both told you. Clarify if there is any misunderstanding. Then ask, "How will I know when you are ready for me to start driving again?" Wait until they both acknowledge that you need to hear it from both of them. Now you know they have heard you and that they understand what you are going to do.

During the training period, purposely leave 10 minutes early. As soon as they start to fight, pull over – even if it is inconvenient.


  • When you pull over, do not say a word. When you use words you invite a power struggle. Not using words invites children to understand that you say what you mean, and mean what you say, and will follow through with dignity and respect for them, for yourself, and for the needs of the situation.
  • Be prepared with a good book to read. Quietly read it and ignore the fighting. The fighting will probably get worse before it gets better because they are trying to get you to respond the way you usually do.
  • If you remain quiet, eventually they will get bored sitting on the side of the road. Wait until they both tell you they are ready. When they do, say, "Thank you", and start driving again.

Hundreds of parents have tried this method. They all report the same thing. After about three times of consistently pulling over (five times at the most), children stop testing because they know they can trust their parent to do what he or she said she will do. Then when they start to fight, all you have to do is start to pull over and they will say, "Okay, we'll stop." I hope you will join the hundreds of parents who have found this effective when they use all the guidelines.

My best to you,

Jane Nelsen


Last school year when I would pick up my 5 year old daughter from kindergarten the first thing she would say to me after I would say hi, how was school? I missed you, I love you, etc. She would respond by asking me if I had brought a snack with me (we live 7 minutes from her school and I always provide a good lunch) and then she would start yelling at me at the top of her lungs for not having a snack for her. (During calm times I would encourage her to eat more of what was in her lunch box when I picked her up after school until we got home.) When the yelling started happening I wondered what had happened to my sweet daughter. I was pretty shocked. I would pull over when she would start yelling and I would get out of the car and wait. This is the first week of the new school year for her and this week she thought to eat left over food from her lunch box instead of yelling. If the yelling behavior reoccurs in addition to pulling over 'consistently' is there more I can do (or should I try something else entirely)?

I'm so glad you brought this up. We all need to be reminded that there is more than one tool, and that one tool doesn't work all the time with every child. There are a two more tools I suggest for your situation. 1) Validate her feelings. "You sound upset." Then let her have her feelings. In other words, don't keep validating. Letting her have her feelings means being quiet and letting her work through it. 2) Have regular family meetings. Then you could say, "I can see we have a problem. Would you like to put it on our family meeting agenda so we can find a solution together; or should I? If you go through your deck of Positive Discipline Tool cards, I'll bet you could find even more that might be helpful. Best wishes, Jane Nelsen

I love this idea. I have 11 and 9 year old boys that fight frequently. Often times, it will be the 11 year old who will hit his 9 year old brother. How do I handle this? Do I pull over and say nothing? It seems like there needs to be a consequence if it's only one sided.

It might help to read this article: https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/sibling-fights-putting-kids-.... Trying to decide who is at fault is a no win situation. The point is not who did what. The point is that you treat both children the same so one doesn’t learn victim mentality and the other doesn’t learn bully mentality, and teaches them to focus on solutions.

Has this method worked for a 3 and 1 year old?

Dr. Jane Nelsen recommends waiting until your children are 4 or older.

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