Driving while your kid is absolutely screaming their head off is just part of parenting, right? Right? A statistician in the United Kingdom thinks that the car tantrum phenomenon is not only predictable and tangible, he thinks that they can be delayed indefinitely just by understanding them better.
James Hind, PhD, a statistician at Nottingham Trent University, interviewed 2,000 parents about when and how their children have tantrums in vehicles. From their responses he has constructed a formula that predicts when and why car tantrums will take place. He also found that the average kid car tantrum will appear about 70 minutes after you pull out of the driveway.
Ready for the math? Here’s the equation Hind landed on.
T = 70 + 0.5E + 15F – 10S
The T is time until tantrum, of course. The E stands for entertainment. The F stands for food. And the S stands for siblings in the car. In other words: you can stall tantrums by providing your kid with entertainment and snacks, and tantrums happen faster and more often if you’ve got multiple kids in the back seat.
It ain’t sounding like rocket science, is it? Every parent worth their salt knows that tossing an iPad and a Happy Meal in the back will buy time, while sibling squabbling causes trouble.
"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," said Hind. "Unfortunately, two children with no entertainment and no snacks can brew up a tantrum in just 40 minutes. Snacks are important but there is a limit to how much they can help, so keep them to two an hour max. Entertainment is key, but even that fails with really long journey times."
The survey results, which helped formulate the equation, reiterated the facts: the three biggest causes of car tantrums are boredom (68%), length of trip (62%), and hunger (57%).
Hind also determined that it takes kids an average of 32 minutes to ask, “Are we there yet?” and that kids will repeat that question four times on average. He didn’t look into how often parents threaten to turn this car around, how many goldfish on average get dropped behind the carseat per minute, or the average number moms turn the volume up to on the radio to drown out whining. Maybe next time.
While the research is easy to laugh at, it’s a pretty solid reminder that kids often throw tantrums when they have a basic need — and that regular stops during long car trips could save everyone a lot of grief in the long run.
Sometimes scientists save lives, cure disease, or allow us to understand humanity better. And sometimes they tell us what we already know. Can they get to work already on curing colic or making a breast pump that’s not a total nightmare?