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9 Tips for Traveling With Children Without Falling Apart!

11/19/2012 04:12 pm ET | Updated Jan 19, 2013
  • Susan Stiffelman Family therapist, Author, Parenting With Presence, Parenting Without Power Struggles

I am going to be flying on my own with my nearly-2-year-old and 4-year-old for the holidays, and I am already panicked. My kids don't even like long car rides and the flight is over three hours. Any suggestions for making it without pulling my hair out?

Ah, the holidays. While many families look forward to reuniting with loved ones, those who have to travel with little ones may approach the season with nothing but dread. Disrupted nap schedules, confined spaces and overstimulation can make traveling at the holidays anything but jolly and merry for traveling parents. Here are some tips that may help you arrive at your destination safe, sound and sane.

1. Create realistic expectations. While it would be terrific if everyone seated around you complimented you on your children's behavior, don't expect to win a popularity contest. Kids are unpredictable. On top of that, when they sense that you need something from them it can fuel the very misbehavior you're hoping to avoid. Creating reasonable expectations for your children's behavior during their airborne adventure will help you stay calmly and confidently in charge.

2. Establish a friendly atmosphere with your seatmates. While no one wants to endure a howling child for three hours, your fellow passengers will be more tolerant (and even helpful) if you begin the flight by acknowledging that you're going to do your best to keep your kids entertained. Some parents pass out pre-written notes to those seated around them, thanking them in advance for their patience. Others even add a $5.00 Starbucks card by way of minimizing the dirty looks!

3. Feed your kids before boarding the plane. Most children manage their behavior best when they're well-nourished. The in-flight meal usually isn't served for at least an hour after the flight takes off, so make sure they are fed and full when they board the airplane.

4. Let your children get their ya-ya's out before the flight. With airlines asking passengers to arrive up to two hours before a flight, many kids have been pushed beyond their limit to sit still even before they board the plane. Take them to the airport playground area, let them ride the escalators or play a few games of Simon Says to burn off some of their energy before getting on the flight.

5. Provide plenty of snacks. Young children need something to do in a confined space, and eating is a great diversion. Some kids will prefer the familiar, while others will be interested in new, bite-sized treats. Putting snacks in different bags or tiny boxes can also add to their appeal.

6. Play seat-friendly games. When my son was little, we traveled all over the world. One of the games he loved was Guess Who: I'm thinking of someone we know who has two dogs, wears glasses and loves to sing. Can you guess who it is? I-Spy is another favorite. I spy with my little eye, somebody on plane wearing yellow. By engaging their curiosity, you'll be able to channel some of your kids' pent up energy!

7. Bring wrapped surprises. Finger puppets, squeezie balls, stickers, wind-up toys, magnets and one of my favorites -- bees wax -- can provide just the distraction you need when your child starts reaching her limit and you sense she's about to fall apart.

8. Load favorite stories onto your cell phone or mp3 player. While many planes have kid-friendly in-flight music, some children are comforted by listening to familiar stories. Record a few of your kids' favorite books so they can listen to you "read" them books during the flight without having to cart along your home library. This may even buy you a few minutes of rest!

9. Pack your sense of humor. Kids take their cues from our attitude. If things start falling apart, take a deep breath, try to see the humor in the situation, and remind yourself of one of my favorite parenting maxims: This, too, shall pass.

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