When you’re a little kid, five minutes can feel like an hour – especially when you’re stuck in a car seat. That’s why, as any parent can tell you, there’s a limit on how long a car journey with a toddler can be before the whole thing erupts into a screaming match about the feasibility of a game of hide and seek halfway down the freeway.
If science can crack cold fusion, it can certainly crack toddler tantrums. James Hind, a lecturer in statistics from Nottingham Trent University in the UK, has calculated a mathematical formula for predicting when things are about to go sideways in a long car drive – and it looks like this:
T = 70 + 0.5E + 15F - 10S
Hind’s research, which was developed alongside UK auto insurer LV= Britannia Rescue, was based on information provided by 2,000 parents who completed surveys on their kids’ travel experiences. The result: the average frazzled parent has 70 minutes, give or take, before chaos descends.
That time can be increased, though: for every minute of entertainment (E), you buy yourself 30 seconds of calm, and food (F) will delay a tantrum by a whopping 15 minutes. On the flip side, though, is the effect of siblings (S), which hastens a breakdown by 10 minutes per brother or sister.
“If you have only one child, and you can keep them entertained and occasionally bribe them with food, you could manage two hours of tantrum-free driving,” Hind said – although “two children with no entertainment and no snacks can brew up a tantrum in just 40 minutes.”
It’s no surprise that food is so important for staving off tantrums – more than half of parents surveyed reported a hangry child as being more likely to throw a wobbly in the backseat.
However, it’s more complex than simply throwing your kids in the back with a grab bag of cookies and leaving them to it: it’s important to spread out the snacks, Hind advised: “there is a limit to how much they can help, so keep them to two an hour max.”
Even more impactful on the chances of a tantrum – cited by more than two-thirds of parents – is boredom. The average child will ask “are we nearly there yet” just 32 minutes into a car journey, the survey found, and three more times before you reach your destination – so one important way of encouraging a peaceful journey is to simply give them something to do.
“Entertainment is key, but even that fails with really long journey times,” Hind said. “Taking breaks to ‘reset the clock’ is important for preventing tantrums, as well as making sure you are not tired while driving.”
“Travelling with young kids in the back seat is never easy, and the research and formula highlights the considerations parents will no doubt experience all over the UK this weekend,” said Henry Topham, managing director of LV= Britannia Rescue.
“So as well as making sure your tires are pumped and your oil and water levels are topped up, make sure your passenger levels are regularly replenished, with snacks, pit stops, and entertainment.”