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.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.