Toddlers on a plane!
That sounds like the title of a bad horror movie and having been there a few times myself, I can honestly say that sometimes it feels that way too. The good news is, it’s less about chance than about great preparation; so, you can learn from other people’s mistakes and avoid your toddler becoming a sanity risk!
A false sense of security
‘We did a long-haul flight when she was just 10 months old and she was fine, it’ll be even easier now she’s two.’
Excuse me while I stop laughing and mop up the coffee I just spat everywhere! Do not be fooled! Travelling with babies is comparatively easy, once they reach the age of two or so, it’s a completely different ball game – and you need to know the rules.
“I’m hungry…. I’m thirsty”
Hands up any parent who’s had to listen to this complaint a hundred times a day? Yes, all of us! Now imagine you are thousands of feet in the air in a vehicle with finite resources… Make sure you have plenty of snacks in your hand luggage, order a child’s meal in advance if possible and keep the water coming. Snacks and drinks not only satisfy basic needs but also take time to ingest – so every snack buys you an extra few minutes of relative calm.
“I need the potty!”
Toddlers are infamous for leaving everything to the last minute and not recognising the need to ‘go’ until it’s very nearly too late. Choose your seat with your toddler carefully and make sure you have clear easy access to the toilet. Have at least one complete change of clothes in your hand luggage as well as wet wipes, a small towel and a few fresh nappies if you’re still at that stage. Encourage ‘going’ before the flight – but always expect (and be prepared for) the worst-case scenario once you take off.
This one is the killer. A bored toddler has the ability – and the will – to disrupt the entire plane and make you wish the ground would swallow you whole, so boredom needs to be avoided at all costs!
An iPad, DVD player or tablet with a pair of toddler friendly headphones is going to be your best friend, at least for the first few hours. There are loads of great apps and games, some educational as well as entertaining (and some just mindless fun), that your little one will love. Take advantage of this down time and read your book, it could be the only chance you get!
Toys, books and games are great – but hand luggage space is limited. Stock up on travel sized versions of favourite things like colouring books, crayons that don’t roll, flash cards, mini sensory toys like fidget cubes, finger puppets and stickers (with something to stick them in or you’ll spend hours scraping them off the table and the window!) Folded tin foil is great too – toddlers love to wrap and unwrap things and this is a tape-free solution for hours of fun and surprises.
Try to make sure there is space to move around. An aisle seat is already a great idea for last minute trips to the loo – but it also has the added advantage that your toddler can get down from his seat and stretch his little legs. Sitting still for hours is hard for adults – for toddlers it’s an impossible dream.
When all else fails and you’ve exhausted your arsenal of entertainment, it’s time to use your imagination. Tell stories, look at photos on your phone and talk about what you remember, look out of the window and spot cloud-dragons and make friends with the flight attendant – so that your little one can wave to him or her occasionally and try to initiate games of peek-a-boo. You may feel that each activity is short-lived but whether it lasts 5 minutes or 55 minutes, it’s killing time and getting you closer to your end goal.
This one is music to the ears – but an over-tired toddler is everyone’s worst nightmare, so make sure you have planned for comfortable naps. A favourite cuddly toy, a small travel pillow and a soft blanket could literally save your sanity, so don’t leave home without them.
As a parent, a bored, tired, hungry toddler is a recipe for disaster – but as a bored, tired, hungry toddler a stressed parent is fuel to a fire. Nothing will make the mood turn faster than if you are demonstrating negativity, so make sure you regulate your emotions.
- Don’t panic if he makes a mess – wipe it up and move on.
- Don’t worry if he’s loud – within reason, of course. A toddler should know their ‘indoor voice’ by now.
- Don’t be one of ‘those parents’ who let their little darling run riot unchecked.
- Don’t get stressed if things don’t go to plan – they rarely do.
And leave extra time at the airport, check in early, allow for exploration and uncertainty, change activity frequently and smile, smile, smile!