Saturday, May 15, 2010

AIR TRAVEL WITH TODDLERS

QUESTION: Air travel hell: No middle seat, no leg room, no food and I am taking along a toddler. We next have to cross the country to see an ailing grandpa but how do you manage a toddler that just wants to run? Our last flight was only 45 minutes. Josh loved the airport he could run and watch planes and trucks from the window. But when we had to board getting on the plane just at nap time caused a meltdown. He screamed and tried to wiggle out of my arms. A fellow passenger tried to be helpful and said I might try Benadryl...I smiled and pressed the edit button in my head so as not to say something mouthy like "I thought about taking some but then I thought I would be too tired to take care of the baby." Medication for a short flight seems ridiculous. So how do you travel with a toddler?

PS Once we sat down and I pulled out a toy there wasn't another peep out of him.

MY ANSWER:
First of all don't tell ANYBODY but when my children were babies-screaming-on-airplanes I actually dipped my finger in scotch (drinks were free then)and let them suck on my finger. Had to do this once with each kid figuring that if the about-to-be-circumcised-baby is given a wine-enhanced pacifier it was safe. (My two are grown, healthy, not alcoholics, and to my knowledge, no longer kick or scream on airplanes.) I confess this bit of horrible parenting which I DO NOT ADVOCATE to point out how tough it can be to own the screaming, fussing, kicking monster who, just before boarding was your little angel. You are trying to comfort your child, concerned about dirty looks from fellow travelers, and feel like screaming yourself. A parenting nightmare!

MY ADVICE:
  • Safety first. Running around airports can be dangerous. If you have a toddler who laughs at you and takes off as fast as a plane, best to use a harness until the child is reliably able to stand by your side while you are fumbling for boarding passes and photo ID.
  • Book early to get seats up front (make it first class if you can afford it) as walking through the aisle is NOT a child-friendly experience. They hate being held by the hand in this confined space with luggage and people's legs narrowing their vision. They also hate being clutched in your arms instead of being free to run.
  • Take food and with you (crackers, animal crackers, or cereal in plastic bags). Take empty bottles or sippy cups to fill with water or milk after you get through security. Hunger is a big reason for toddler meltdown.
  • Have a cache of special airplane toys and books. These emergency toys must be exciting enough to distract the child from mayhem. I usually had something developmentally ahead of my child because I would be right there to help. Important: don't use these special things any other place or they lose effectiveness. Also take the FAVORITES (book, pillow, stuffed creature).
  • Try to plan travel around your child's body rhythms. Ideally you board the plane when the kid is interested in playing with the special airplane toys, after 30 minutes he gets hungry and you have food he likes, and then he naps until just before landing. Easier said than done especially today with fewer flights and many airport delays.
  • Be flexible/lenient/indulgent. Even though you never give your child soda pop getting a non-caffeinated beverage from the flight attendant can be a distracting fun thing. But try to avoid too much junk food.
  • Be prepared! A 45-minute flight could turn into hours on the tarmac or at an airport not on your itinerary. I spent 22 hours at O'Hare recently instead of my 60 minute layover. Have extra toys, food, and clothes.
  • Turn travel time into special parent-child time. Cuddle, sing little songs, tell new stories you make up about when you when you took your first airplane ride. (Exaggeration and even outright lies are OK.)
  • Whisper. I once saw a savvy mom keep a three-year-old entranced for the whole flight by whispering in her ear. I don't know what she was saying by I saw the child's face light up. A whisper is intense, personal attention. Remember this hint for emergency situations like a flight delay.
  • Don't worry about the other passengers. Most understand toddlers. Some will offer to hold or play with the kid...novelty can pay off. Ignore those who glare at you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. 99% of people are nice. Flight attendants are as responsive as they can be.
  • Hope for the best. I've had my share of Bad Air Days. But the reality is that most of the time the planes are on time, your luggage arrives with you, and your kid will do just fine.

This answer is NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical care. ALWAYS consult your physician or childcare expert if you have any questions concerning yourself or your family's well being.

Tell your friends they too can get a personal answer to their parenting question from Dr. Heins and can subscribe to her free parenting newsletter by going to http://www.ParentKidsRight.com.


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