It's a dilemma that faces every parent of young kids at some point - flying! This quandary is especially problematic for Waldorf-inclined parents (like myself) who are hesitant to try to pacify their tykes with medications or DVDs. How does one get a constantly moving kid to sit still for six hours in an airplane without the use of Benadryl or its TV equivalent Dora the Explorer? Anxiously preparing for a flight with my always-in-motion little boy and no antihistamines, I decided to ask fellow parents and Inhabitots readers for their words of wisdom. I got a lot of great advice and tested out some of my favorite suggestions on my son during my latest cross-country trip to California. The verdict? Read below to discover my most highly recommended non-pharmaceutical engagement and diversion tactics for your next cross-country journey with a child.
DURING TAKE-OFF AND LANDING
1. De-pressurize little ear canals with boob / bottle / lollipops
Parents of babies know that the boob or the bottle is the best solution to alleviating ear-pressure build-up in the tiny ear canals of infants, but what to do about toddlers who are no longer nursing or using a bottle? Older children still face the same issue of ear-pressure build-up, and they don’t have the necessary motor skills to relieve this pressure themselves (and no, you should not offer them gum), so help them out with something else they can suck or chew on. Drink bottles (my son loves his Bobble) and organic lollipops make good pacifiers for older children. As an added bonus, they help to zip little lips and provide distraction during take-off and landing.
2. Dr. Seuss is Your Best Friend
Obviously if you have a child you are familiar with Dr. Seuss, and I probably don’t have to explain why his books are excellent for long trips in planes and cars. But for those of you who haven’t caught Seuss fever – here’s why its especially good to visit the Doctor before embarking on a long journey:
+ Dr. Seuss books are long (meaning you can knock down 30 minutes with one book) but never boring.
+ Dr. Seuss books are silly, rhyme-y and will get your tot laughing.
+ Dr. Seuss books pack a lot of reading time into a small, lightweight package – meaning you can get way more distraction time out of a Seuss than a 2 minute board book.
+ Dr. Seuss books have fun illustrations and great moral messages mixed in to the silliness.
Here are some of my favorite Seuss books for car and plane trips: Oh The Places You’ll Go, The Lorax, The Sneetches, If I Ran The Circus, The Birthday Book, Horton Hears a Who, and The Cat In The Hat Comes Back (and he has 26 miniature cats hidden inside his hat like Russian nesting dolls!!!!)
3. Surprise gifts – wrapped in fun wrappings like aluminum foil or scarves
One unanimous piece of advice I received from everyone was to bring little surprise gifts/toys as treats to disperse throughout the flight to stave off boredom and meltdowns. When your toddler is about to pull a major meltdown, whip out a gift and nip that tantrum in the bud. (I don’t recommend this form of bribery anywhere except on airplane trips over 4 hours). I did this with a couple of new Seuss books (see above), and a drawing pad with crayons. You can get a good 20 minutes out of the novelty of opening the gift and exploring it, and then another 30 minutes or so out of reading a new book or drawing on a new pad – and then yet ANOTHER 20 or so minutes out of sculpting with the aluminum foil, or playing peekaboo/dress-up with a scarf. Voila! You’ve just conquered more than hour! Have 4 to 5 little gifts prepared for the flight and you’re set for whatever life throws at you.
4. Pack lots of non-messy, non-crumbly snacks your tyke likes
Nothing is worse than being stuck somewhere with a hungry, whiny, low-blood-sugar child. Even the sweetest of angels can quickly turn into little monsters without enough glucose coursing through their veins. Airline food is not at all reliable (especially these days), so plan ahead with wholesome, easy-to-eat snacks like bananas, nuts and dried fruit. Cookies and crackers might be favorite treats of your child, but you risk having to endure many angry glares from fellow passengers and crew members if your tot dribbles crumbs all over your neighbor’s lap. Protein staves off hunger longer than starches, so I rely on tofu cubes and organic protein bars to tide me and my little dude over.
5. Bring a digital camera – and load it up with homemade videos and photos
In a pinch, my digital camera can always fend off the darkest approaching toddler storm – after all what kid doesn’t brighten up when looking at photos of themselves and their loved ones? Its always a good idea to keep some favorite pics on your phone and camera, but in a pinch, you can always have an impromptu photo / video shoot and then play back your creations with your child. This way you can make memories and avoid temper tantrums in one fell swoop! You may even want to take a few photos in the airport at the beginning of your journey, like the above picture, so you have something fresh and ready to show your child once on board.
Which brings me to my last and most controversial tip…
6. The digital dilemma & my favorite iPad apps for young kids
First of all, let me start this off by saying that I’m an anti-media kind of parent, so I’m not condoning a no-holds-barred access to digital technology for kids. I don’t let my son watch TV and I definitely think that TV watching and excessive gadget use is bad for developing young brains. That said, there are some moments (such as on your 5th hour in an airplane), when your child is getting fidgety, tired, tantrum-y, and is no longer engaged with books, toys, or treats and you just get desperate. For those such moments I recommend the following:
+ Home photos / video on the phone or iPad
see point #5
If you’ve exhausted that one…