Most of us have our traveling horror stories – missed flights, lost luggage, 10-hour layovers. But traveling with kids? It’s not for the faint of heart.
My first foray into air travel with a child was when my then nine-month old son and I flew across the country to visit my father. We spent much of the six hours standing in the back of the plane as he gnawed on animal crackers, and I prayed the flight attendants wouldn’t make us return to our window seat.
When the boy was three years old, we spent four hours on the runway preceding a one-hour flight, which involved seven bags of chips and no less than 384 jaunts down the aisle, dropping crumbs and apologies along the way. It was pretty much a nightmare.
Because, deep down, what we all fear more than a tantrum is intolerance from other passengers in the form of the dreaded eye-roll or a snippy comment. Add the inevitable stress associated with traveling during the holidays and families might feel like they are doomed to travel through the perfect storm.
Brooklyn-based social worker and parenting coach Alice Kaltman pointed out, “Parents shouldn’t be defensive or confrontational with testy fellow travelers. Be gracious and understanding to them, as well as to your kids. Parents can apologize if their children are being super loud or physically disruptive, but that is best done out of earshot of the kids. Don’t go on and on, don’t denigrate your children or yourself, and don’t say too much too loudly in front of them.”
Traveling with children doesn't have to feel like navigating an endless obstacle course of stress and tears.
But traveling with children doesn’t have to feel like navigating an endless obstacle course of stress and tears. That means being prepared beyond throwing a few figurines and crayons in a bag.
Here are a few essential tips and tricks for helping you and your children pass the time so that neither of you lose your cool:
Bring a plethora of distracting toys and games for toddlers and up, both old favorites and a handful of new surprises. Don’t take them all out at once – rotate them during the flight.
“Don’t expect to pacify your kids exclusively with video games, movies, and television but if they distract your kids happily, don’t hesitate to use them as needed,” advises Ms. Kaltman.
Pack lots of snacks, as well as pacifying objects for babies. Gum can be a terrific distraction during take-off and landing for kids who are old enough to not swallow it.
4. Activity books
Coloring books, mazes, word searches, and crossword puzzles can help pass the time. Participation from adults can make the enjoyment last longer and ward off frustration.
If your children are still into reading aloud from caregivers, starting a book ahead of travel is a terrific way to engage children. They’re already invested in the story.
Spill-proof art supplies like putty, glue-sticks, paper, tape, crayons, and markers are great tools for keeping kids busy.
7. On-call adult
If a family has the convenience of traveling with two adults, make sure that one is actively on duty to oversee playtime, facilitate a trip down the aisle, or narrate a video. “In other words, always expect to be parenting and involved, even if your child is occupied,” added Kaltman.
So before you hop on that plane, train, or bus, take the time to prepare so that your family, and those around them, has the best chance of a pleasant trip.
If despite your best efforts, the unexpected happens—as it so often does with young humans—take a deep breath and remember that your calm response has a direct impact on the situation diminishing versus escalating.
“We can’t teach strangers empathy, but there will always be those parents traveling on your bus, train, or plane who get it,” says Ms. Kaltman. “So try to focus on knowing there are kindred spirits in the crowd.”
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