I recently read an article about the challenges of flying with young children and was not surprised to hear that parents experience high levels of stress and anxiety from the experience; however, I was amazed at how much anger and resentment other passengers directed at the traveling parents. Some readers commented that parents were “selfish” to travel with young kids and that the kids should be “drugged” with Benadryl. Those were the nicer comments. Several airlines are now considering placing families with young children in the rear of the plane and there have been several stories of parents being forced to leave the plane because of a crying baby. No one is more stressed by a crying baby or a toddler in the midst of a tantrum than the parents. Our family recently survived a 2 day, 12 hour road trip in the car with a 3 year old and a 1 year old. We also survived a seven hour (delayed flight) trip to the Caribbean. I decided to resist the urge to focus this blog on the controversy surrounding travel with young kids, and instead focus on helpful ways to have a peaceful and stress-free trip with the kids.
As both trips were manageable, but not entirely stress free (one roll on the floor tantrum in the middle of the airport, several “are we there yet”, and “yelling and fighting in the back seat”), I asked a few friends with kids to offer suggestions. Below are the top ten suggestions.
• Buy a brand new toy and hide it until you get on the airplane or in the car. A new toy should buy you about 2 hours of quiet time.
• Even if the young child is potty trained, try using a pull-up for long trips. This will lessen the anxiety for both parent and child. No emergency stops on the side of the road or needing to go to the bathroom just when the flight attendant is blocking the isle with the drink cart.
• Give just enough juice and water to keep the kids hydrated. The last thing you need on a long trip is a child on a sugar high.
• For kids that are of TV/Movie age, pack a portable DVD player with at least 2 of their favorite movies.
• Bring their favorite snacks. Kids may not want those delicious snack packs offered by the airline
• Kids are weary of new surroundings, so bring a favorite toy, book, blanket, or stuffed animal – anything to make them feel at home.
• If possible, try to get seated in the same row on an airplane. If you have a toddler, seat her on the inside so that she will not be tempted to run up and down the aisle.
• If you are flying, take advantage of early boarding so that you will have time to get your bags stored and child settled.
• Whether you are traveling by car or air, travel light. No need to bring a case of diapers when you can pick up more at the local supermarket. Several airports/destination cities will have a place where you can rent a car seat and a stroller.
• If possible, drive or fly at nap-time. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if your child could sleep through the flight or road trip?
If despite your best efforts, a tantrum ensues, the child gets an earache from the cabin pressure, or something unexpected occurs, take a deep breath, don’t panic, and try to address the child’s immediate need. Drown out the little voice telling you that everyone is looking at you and judging you as a parent. Hugs, kisses, reassurance and maybe the promise of a favorite treat at the end of the trip can turn a frown into a smile.
Have a good traveling tip? Help out your fellow parents by posting it below.