Flying tips for parents: How to survive the Thanksgiving rush when children are along for a long, long ride.
It’s almost Thanksgiving. There’s a feast ahead, but first, you may need to travel for hours with one or more young kids by plane — and that’s only after you pack, get through security lines, walk past multiple airport Starbucks (“Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie?”) and make sure everyone gets onto that plane on time.
But what will you do when you’re finally sitting on a plane with an agitated child, wedged between rows with a boring seat back in front of you?
Here are five ideas from local kid experts on things families can do to keep a child calm and content in the air.
1. Try some good old-fashioned play: For kids who haven’t hit school age yet, board sets with play figures are a big hit, and markers, activity books, crayons, papers and coloring books are a good diversion, too, says Susanne Donaldson, a preschool teacher at Nurturing Knowledge in Phinney Ridge. “It might be best to bring a lot of those along, too, since attention spans can be pretty short.”
Other favorites include Magna Doodle, bracelet-making kits, and Wiki Stix — small waxy sticks for building tiny creations.
2. Take a good long nap. OK, so this mainly works for babies. But if you time the flight right and bring a cozy blanket along, you and your child might have a blissfully quiet, peaceful experience.But don’t force it, says Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatrician who blogs as Seattle Mama Doc.
If you do use Benadryl in the hopes that your child will drift off on a flight, “you’re medicating your kid for your convenience,” said Swanson. “You’re not medicating your child because they need it.”
3. Eat a snack. (Or even play with a snack.) Don’t forget that this could also be a great time to let children play with their treats. “Novel food can keep kids occupied for a long time, like Froot Loops — food that they can play with and eat. With Froot Loops, they can sort them into different colors,” says Donaldson. (Or make cereal necklaces with string.)Don’t forget that if a baby or child’s ears hurt as the plane descends, the pain can make them truly miserable — but snacks can help.
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The suction of sucking on a bottle or breastfeeding helps babies’ ears adapt to cabin pressure properly, and for older kids, treats can do the trick, specifically, lollipops or gum, because swallowing helps as their ears adapt to the changes in cabin pressure. “For our baby flights I always brought a handful of packs of earplugs,” said Mary-Britt Love, a Northeast Seattle mother of two. “I never ended up handing them out, but felt better knowing if the baby had a horrible flight I could buy our seat neighbors drinks and hand the earplugs out.”
4. Go for a walk — When kids get stir-crazy, it’s best to get moving. “That toddler’s going to want to get up and walk,” noted Swanson, encouraging parents to take a stroll. “Don’t feel that you have to stay in your seat.”
5. Just go ahead and plug in. Tablets, phones, laptops? Bring ‘em. “Traveling in the plane is a perfect time for screen time,” notes Dr. Swanson. “We finger-wag constantly and advise parents how not to use screens, but, I mean, a plane is a perfect place you can use your phone or tablet to entertain your child.” Clearly, this is not the time to try to introduce a heavy paperback copy of “War and Peace.”
Remember to bring earphones along to avoid disturbing other passengers and to make sure your kid can get the full audio experience. “It’s just one place where I don’t think we have to stick to the ‘less than two hours’ rule,” says Swanson, noting that parents shouldn’t feel guilty about excessive screen time in the skies.
“It’s a hard environment, there’s very little choice. It’s not like they have a choice to go outside and play.”