Are We Nearly Stressed Yet?
New report reveals the impact kids have on a driver's concentration.
The stress levels of Britain's mums and dads have reached new, higher proportions thanks to their kids' bad behaviour in the car, according to a new report. Three quarters of parents do not enjoy travelling with their children and, as a consequence, lose concentration when driving, creating potentially dangerous situations on the road.
The report, commissioned to support the launch of the new 'family friendly' Kia Carens, explored parents' attitudes to driving with children in order to uncover the problems they encounter, with the highest proportion of parents complaining that their kid's behaviour in the car ruined their concentration (59%).
Despite the fact that half the parents surveyed travel with their children every
day, 56% find car trips with children barely tolerable, while one in five describe them as stressful. Sadly, 1% of parents found travelling with their kids unbearable.
These findings concerned child psychologist Dr Stephen Briers who analysed the results for Kia. He comments: 'However experienced you are, driving demands complex mental activity - from monitoring the road, anticipating new developments and co-ordinating responses accordingly. Add to that whinging and squabbling kids and it can feel that there simply isn't enough 'processing power' to go round. This is a sure fire recipe for stress.'
It would normally be expected that travelling with children on long journeys would be more stressful than short journeys - and 53% of the parents questioned would agree. However, the report also showed that a third of mums and dads find both journeys as stressful as the other while, interestingly, 15% found short journeys more stressful.
Dr Briers explains why short distances feel just as unbearable. 'A lot of short journeys are routine trips such as school runs, taking children to sports practice and the like. Busy modern lifestyles mean that many of these trips are conducted under time pressure at peak periods, when traffic conditions are at their worst and parents are more likely to be stressed by delays.'
He goes on to suggest that stress can have a noticeable affect on children: 'If they tend to behave badly in the car, the chances are that their behaviour is a reliable indicator that they are feeling under pressure as well. Unfortunately in children, stress manifests itself in ways likely to increase pressure on their parents. It is a cycle that must be broken to ensure safe travel with children.'
He continues: 'Whatever the length of journey, when we get tired our resistance to stress dips and we are easily taxed by complex tasks - especially those that require our attention to be split. It becomes even more crucial that, in these instances, drivers take regular breaks.'
It is also clear from the report that parents are failing to regularly prepare themselves and their children sufficiently for the journey and therefore unable to properly control their behaviour once it has begun. Seven per cent of parents said they undertook no form of planning before driving with their children, while 49% said they would only occasionally plan - meaning that children have no consistent preparation before a car journey.
This lack of preparation means that parents are failing to keep their children comfortable, relaxed and entertained on car trips. The research uncovered a number of 'quick-fix' measures that parents have resorted to, to try and keep the peace:
Two thirds have used sweets, food and drinks to keep their children quiet
More than half have turned to electronic games and equipment
An incredible 11% of parents have insisted on absolute silence when travelling with their children
Yet this appears not to be working as children still voice their complaints and their behaviour is still affecting their parents' enjoyment of the trip. The most common complaint that 77% of parents have to endure from their children is the length of journey. The other key grumbles are travel sickness (20%), lack of space (17%), not being able to see out of the car (15%) and uncomfortable seats (9%).
So what can parents do to overcome their own levels of stress and their children's levels of discomfort? Dr Briers and Kia have prepared the Kia Seven Steps to Kid Heaven - the essential principles for successful family travel however long or short the journey:
1) Think about car travel from a child's point of view. Different children prefer to adopt different travel strategies. Consider the individual needs of your children and how you can minimise their stress during journeys. If you can keep their stress levels down the trip will be easier - and safer - for everyone in the car.
2) Plan ahead. Involve your kids in preparations for longer journeys where possible and don't forget that reducing the stress of short journeys is particularly likely to depend on rigorous organisation beforehand.
3) Make sure your kids are comfortable. Provide duvets and pillows to make bolsters and cosy nests but never compromise safety equipment. Kids need space so try not to fill the area around them with clutter or extra baggage.
4) Keep them entertained (but remember that you will need a range of different options to keep them occupied). Try and make provision for things you can do together as a family, but also for quieter individual activities when you need your children to amuse themselves.
5) Ring the changes. When travelling with kids variety is the key. Swap seating arrangements around. Break with convention and consider sitting in the back with your children. Think about novel places to stop en route and try and find some alternatives to well-worn favourites like 'I-Spy'.
6) Take regular breaks. Two to three hours is the most that children can tolerate without a chance to stretch their legs. It can be tempting to press on, but drivers also need regular breaks if they are to keep concentration levels up and stress levels down.
7) Set the tone. Although stressed children are likely to produce stressed adults, the reverse is also true. By keeping calm yourself you can break the stress cycle for everyone. Lead by example and remember that in most cases it won't be the end of the world if you arrive a few minutes late.
Kia launches these seven steps in the same month it unveils its new compact MPV - the Carens. The car has been improved with kids and parents needs in mind and answers a lot of the kids' complaints about seating and space. Stephen Kitson, Communications Director at Kia Motors UK, has found these insights invaluable to the model's development: 'As half term approaches, when many families will be embarking on long trips, we are keen to help parents by providing them with convenient solutions to a hassle free drive. By understanding the importance of aspects like space and comfort we can go some way to creating the safest and happiest driving experience possible'.