On both international and domestic flights one of my top tips is to have a range of activities, like books, puzzles or games for your child to engage in. When my children were very small I mixed in a few new items, like colouring books or small toys and wrapped them. Keep these in reserve. If your child is becoming fed up, the act of looking at something new, taking time to unwrap and then scrunch up the paper can be a calming respite for everyone. A favourite activity was a set of finger puppets which fit into a small pocket of a carry on bag and could be part of an action song or characters in a story. In moments of desperation airline sick bags make great hand puppets. If you have marker pens or crayons or even a ball-point pen you can decorate them and create characters. Card games are another great easy to pack and carry entertainment for children. Naughts and crosses and connect the dots can be set up in a moment on a spare piece of paper. Eye spy and animal, mineral, vegetable don’t require any resources other than some attention, perfect for standing in line waiting for customs.
These days most international carriers have ‘magical’ video screens with entertainment designed for young ones. Parents and children often travel with devices which can be pre-loaded with apps and content which can keep children occupied for long periods of time. It’s thinking about those moments when the digital devices aren’t available and you might need a way to keep your child entertained that will help to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.
On overnight flights it can be helpful to change babies and young children into their night attire. This helps to signal to them that the venue might be different but the routines are going to be the same. Keeping to an eating routine can be a little more tricky as airlines tend to offer meals at the beginning and ends of flights which do not always coincide with when you might expect to be eating under normal circumstances. Encourage your child to eat something if they are hungry if nothing else opening all the cute packets and sampling new things can be a good diversion while the adults are eating. Drinking is very important and fluids should be available to everyone throughout the flight. Little and often is a good guideline for children. They may not be thirsty but encourage them to take a few sips often throughout the flight.
Transit and connecting flights can often be very stressful for adults who are trying to figure out where the next gate is and what formalities need to be completed. It is very easy to become distracted. In these situations when my children were young I did on occasion use a leash with my youngest son who was a runner. I had a huge fear that when we were moving through Los Angeles Airport he would run away from me. For an interesting and somewhat light hearted look at this issue check out this video of my colleague and friend Michele Blick, registered educational psychologist and chairperson of the Institute of Educational and Developmental Psychology being interviewed on 7 Sharp on the topic of using a leash with young children. Another strategy I used was to dress my two boys in similar outfits with bright colours so it was easy for me to keep an eye on them. Letting children know in advance that there might be some times when they need to let mum and dad figure out what comes next and then giving the children praise if they manage to stick with you despite not giving them a lot of attention is the best way to manage the situation.
With a little forward planning, setting the right expectations and looking for the positives your next flight, short or long, international or domestic will be a fun experience for everyone.
At the start of the last school holidays I blogged about how to have a successful school holiday break. I mentioned that flying with children deserved its own blog post and here it is now. If you are flying internationally or domestically with your children this school holiday I have some ideas to make things go smoothly. With the school holidays less than two weeks away I suspect anyone planning on getting away is thinking about getting ready. This will be a two part blog. Today part one and next week part two.
In this area I have a bit of personal experience to back-up my psychological knowledge. For 10 years I lived in the Midwest of the United States. In other words a long, long way from New Zealand. Along with my husband and two children we made a lot of international and domestic flights to visit family and friends in New Zealand and within the USA. My husband’s brother lived at different times in Singapore and France and we were lucky enough to visit him too. I’ve experienced delays, rerouted flights involving overnight stops in unexpected places, a baby with ear problems, grumpy and fabulous flight attendants, and I still think flying with children is at worst bearable and at best great fun and entertainment.
To begin with it’s important to be realistic about what the experience of flying with children might be like. In the good old days you might have jumped aboard a plane, magazine or book in hand, enjoyed a quiet cup of tea or coffee/wine and then watched a few movies you had missed out on. Flying with children, more likely, means you board the plane with a bag full of baby/children’s gear, grab as much water as you can and watch bits and pieces of movies in between interruptions from children. Having said that I have some great memories of flying with my children. In our busy worlds having one to one time with our children without other distractions can feel like a real treat.
The key is preparation. As you plan your trip, involve your children as much as possible. This can be as simple as talking about the plans. Depending on the age of your children getting them involved in making some choices and researching activities is a great idea. Talk to your children in advance about what might be expected of them as they travel. Some things just can’t be avoided such as security checks, waits to board planes and customs and immigration procedures. Children cope best if they know in advance what might happen and are given the opportunity to ask questions.
If you are travelling domestically, having small snacks available with you is a great idea. A container of carrot or celery sticks, sliced fruit or easy peel mandarins make snacks that travel well and are easy to eat. Babies and small children who experience ear pain on take off and landing may find that sucking on a bottle or sippy cup can relieve the pain. You may want to board the plane equipped with these in your carry on bag. If you are travelling internationally you may not bring liquids through security screening but you can purchase them once you are through security and flight attendants can provide water on board.
If you are travelling internationally check out what food will be acceptable to bring into the destination country. Generally processed and packaged foods are OK and this might be the time to pop a few muesli bars and packets of crackers into your carry on for emergency snacks. Airlines will often provide particular meals for young children and babies if requested. It’s good to have some kind of back up though just in case the airline doesn’t load your requested food or your child doesn’t like the food offered.
More on this topic next week.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.