There is almost nothing worse for a traveler than being on a plane next to a screaming child. As a parent it is up to us to make the trip pleasant for our child, if not only for the sake of the other passengers and crew, but for the sake of ourselves and our child. Planning ahead is paramount. Here are some tips and ideas to get you started, even before you leave the ground.
If you have traveled in the car with your child, they will have a better ability to sit still for a length of time, and while most flights have movies, do not expect them all too. Sometimes parents take too much advantage of the ability to have children watching movies in newer model cars, and the children never learn to entertain themselves if entertainment is not provided.
As a parent you can do yourself, and your child a huge favor, by going on car trips and encouraging nothing more than that they look out with window. If handled correctly, by playing “eye-spy” games, even a three year old should be able to travel by car without watching a video. Of course scenery out the airplane window might not always be interesting, but all we are doing is training the brain not to require a certain form of entertainment.
Talk to the child about the trip, of course this will be an age related talk. Why are you going? Where to? How long will the trip be? Get a map and show them what the trip is about, but do not over do it to cause anxiety. You are the parent and will be the best judge of what to say, and when.
If asked about plane crashes, do not just say “It won’t happen.” Most children know this is a lie, since obviously crashes do happen. Instead inform them that nobody on the plane wants it to happen, so the pilot and crew will work very hard so it does not happen. You can tell them that every day there are thousands and thousands of planes in the air, and yet we do not hear about crashes every day.
Depending on the age and anxiety level of the child, you may want to talk to a doctor about medication for the trip, although this should be a last resort.
Plan the trip well. Everything should be thought out, from time of travel, to the number, and length of lay overs. Sometimes longer lay overs work better than short ones.
Pack toys. Electronic toys should only be brought if they have volume control and can be turned to silent (and your child will have to be able to accept that). This is for the comfort of the other passengers who surely do not want to hear the sound of an electronic game. Toys with small parts (Lego) should not be brought, because the small pieces will fall and get lost. Some of the best toys are puppets and coloring books. Make these new purchases and keep them hidden until on the plane. Have a puppet for yourself too.
Pack Snacks. With flights not always offering food, it is a good idea to be prepared with some of your own. Mostly dry, finger food, type snacks are best. Hard candies to suck while going through air pressure changes are good. Dry breakfast cereal works well as a snack, stay away from the sugary stuff though.
Pack Favorites. A favorite blanket or stuffed animal is a must on any trip. You can use them to settle a tense situation by offering to take a picture of their favorite toy on the plane. Sometimes by doing something unexpected it can change their focus. Children will have to accept their toy taken away during the security check, humor them that the toy is getting an “x-ray.” Of course good manners, of allowing the parent to take a toy away, are something that should be instilled earlier.
Bring a blanket and small pillow. Not all flights offer these, and those that do, might not have them “free.”
In your carry-on bag, have an extra set of clothing, in case they spill anything on themselves, wet themselves, or in the event your luggage is lost, they may need a change of clothing before you have opportunity to buy new items.
At the airport, rather than sitting while you wait for boarding, spend as much time with the child walking around, they will be sitting long enough on the flight. Some airports have lots of activities to do while waiting to depart, others are limited, be prepared for the wait.
On the plane, if one of you has to sit next to a stranger, it should be you, not your child.
If the flight is longer, play for the first part of the flight, then encourage them to sleep. This will make the trip seem much shorter for everyone.
Draw a map of the flight, your start, your finish, along the way you can guess where you are, how close to the end. Some flights have this feature built in and “televised”, this helps children to understand how much longer the flight is going to be.
If your child acts negatively while on the plane, apologize to the others, rather than becoming defensive. The passengers are more likely to sympathize with a parent who is trying to calm their child and is understanding that it is upsetting to others, rather than one who acts as though the behavior is normal and everyone else should have to tolerate it.
Keeping flights fun is the key to many a successful trip. Careful and early planning will make the flight with your child much more pleasant for everyone.