Getting kids to behave is not genetic. It’s an art, a tap dance of give and take that hinges upon a parent’s ability to be 10 steps ahead of looming meltdowns. This is especially true with travel.
Fact: Flying with children is a disaster waiting to happen. Land mines abound: enclosed space, hunger, boredom, medical maladies, and, worst of all, non-specified freak-outs that don’t have an obvious remedy.
So, how can a parent stave off tantrums at 30,000 feet? By avoiding spontaneity at all costs. As you walk down that jetway, you should have a checklist of potential catastrophes — and solutions — tucked into a handy, dandy carry-on. This, my friends, is the recipe for diffusing (most) volatile in-flight situations.
Situation #1: Hunger
Kids get hungry — and thirsty — every 30 minutes. To avoid the low-blood-sugar-induced crank fest, have food and drink at the ready. Stock your bag with easy-to-transport meals (sandwich, bagel, well-wrapped pizza) and non-perishable snacks like granola bars, grapes, squeezable applesauce, crackers and dried fruit. Make sure to buy plenty of water and juice at the airport.
Tip: Delays will happen. And, planes, for the most part, have nothing for sale. So bring extra nibbles to last the predicted duration of your flight, plus two hours.
Situation #2: Pain/Injury
Ear infection, sudden fever, onset of a cold, stomachache, mystery rash, blood gushing from a cut incurred during seatbelt removal. These are just some of the scenarios that transpire in the blink of an eye. Prepare for all of them by traveling with a mini fix-it-all pharmacy kit. Here’s what you need: a zippered pouch with Children's Motrin, Band-Aids, cortisone, Neosporin, Pepto Bismol for kids and Benadryl.
Tip: If your child tends to have ear pain from swimming or altitude, try EarPlanes ear plugs to alleviate ear pressure when taking off and landing.
Situation #3: Boredom
Occupied kids are quiet kids. Knowing this, any parent who does not adequately prepare for hours of sitting still is doomed. The iPad has been a godsend for traveling families. When trapped in a stuffy plane for hours on end, most parents are willing to abolish their day-to-day digital scrutiny in favor of a fully engaged brood. This is heaven for tweens and teens who can binge-watch an entire television season or take in three films without a single bathroom break.
For younger children (ages 4 to 10), in addition to downloading a few videos and movies, it’s a good idea to include some apps (Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, Weetwoo, Slice it, Stack The States) to keep them busy. But have other options on hand when they lose interest — like interactive electronic games. Brands like Leapster, VTech and Fisher Price (check toysrus.com for the latest and greatest selection) are excellent at stimulating this age group with a range of educational and easy-to-transport choices. Also, pack a cross section of books and activity books (check scholastic.com) that jibe with your child’s interests. For very young children, go old school with finger puppets, soft books, or Crayola “mess free” coloring books.
Tip: To reduce your load and provide your kids a sense of independence, let them bring their own rollaboard suitcase or backpack. Stock it with games, anti-bacterial wipes and snacks.
Situation #4: Unspecified Meltdown
Key to any travel experience with children is bribery. Having tricks up your sleeve to introduce in moments of desperation is the secret to tantrum-busting. By the age of 4, kids understand the if/then scenario, such as, “If you behave on the plane, then you will get a sweet treat, an app of your choice, the chance to stay up late tonight, an extra dessert when we get to Grandma’s house.”
Use any and all intel to control the situation. What are your child’s favorite “forbidden” foods (gummies, lollipops, licorice)? Have plenty of these socked away. Does your son love baseball? Does your daughter love fashion? An element of surprise-and reward will quell the situation. For younger kids, commiserate with them and tell then you understand how hard it is to be good on a plane. Be sure to tell them how proud you are of them and that you have a big surprise (you better have one!) waiting for them as soon as we “get there.” Then, produce some drawing material and challenge them to a drawing contest. It’s all about positive reinforcement.
Tip: Most parents forget to bring bribery material on the plane. To protect your own sanity, bring extra treats to quiet the screaming children around you.
Situation #5: Loss of Power Source
Make sure to bring a backup power source for digital devices. Though some planes are equipped with electrical outlets, many aren’t. So be prepared with a portable USB charger like this one from Duracell.
Tip: Bring an extra power source for everyone in the family using a digital device.