In an earlier post, I linked to a great blog featuring excellent car trip activities.
A technique that I employ for managing road trip behavior is a little old-fashioned reward system. My mom always did this for me on long car rides and I use it for my children now. I have to say it works very effectively for ages anywhere from about 3 to 12 and is a great incentive for keeping the peace. Before the trip, I purchase several trinkets, maybe figure one per 200-300 miles. I always try to keep it at something the kids can do in the car: a cheap movie for the DVD player, a lap game, books, etc. I wrap the presents before the trip (wrapped is always more enticing then not wrapped!) and stick them in a tote bag. The kids are very excited to know that there are some possible goodies in the back seat for them, although they also know that there are some rules they have to abide by to receive one.
I go over the rules for "car time" and if any of the rules are broken, there will be no present at the next determined stop. Now, this may lead to some unpleasantness (perhaps an understatement); however, the momentary meltdown will be followed by much better behavior in order to earn a prize for the next go-around. Since I have done this for awhile, my kids are pretty accustomed to how it works and what is expected so they will usually be able to earn their prizes. There are not too many meltdowns at the prospect of not earning a prize as they know there will be another opportunity and an over-the-top fit might actually hurt their chances for the next gift stop.
A good idea that I have seen to go along with the reward system is to have little red, green and yellow light cards that can be clipped to the visor for each child. As long as the behavior in the car is good, they will stay on green, but if the behavior lurks into murky territory, the color will become yellow as the final warning. A red light card means you are out of luck and will not have the privilege of picking a present. I am actually going to start using this on our next long road trip.
It may take a little extra time to gather some items for the trip and wrap them, but the sanity and relative quiet from the back seat will more than make up for it. Actually, I pick up items to add to my "car present tote" all year long so it really is not much work right before a trip. Looking back on the years that my mom did this with me, I have fond memories of the stops and excitement of getting a prize and it probably made for a happier trip for everyone!