We all want a pleasant flying experience when we travel, so the idea of being stuck in a plane with young children who can neither sit still nor control their emotions when it takes an extra 30 seconds to turn SpongeBob on on the tablet would make anyone in their right mind cringe. The problem with the argument about not letting our little ones on planes is that they need an opportunity to learn proper airplane behavior, and the only way for them to do that is with some practice.
The Earlier, The Better
It may seems counterproductive to take a baby on a plane, but the younger a child is when they start to fly, the easier it will be to normalize the experience. For you, there is probably nothing “normal” about trying to drag a carseat on top of a stroller and pull out your breastmilk for testing at security. This is understandable. But for kiddos, everything about an airport and planes is new and exciting, and as a parent, you can capitalize on that to make them focus and become familiar with what’s expected of them when they fly.
Talk About What To Expect
Children act out when they are afraid or distressed, and flying can be a scary ordeal for someone so small. The roller coaster-like take off, the sometimes painful ear popping, the lack of personal space: it all has the potential to make for an overwhelming trip.
When you fly with your younger children, you have the opportunity to control that experience by discussing what will happen and making it sound fun. When a child feels like going on a plane is a special treat instead of a dreaded necessity to go see grandma, she’s more likely to be happy and well behaved. Here are some things to talk about:
- There are a lot of people on the plane. It’s important that we wait our turn.
- We always use our inside voices on a plane.
- Planes can be small, so we must be respectful of each person’s personal space. If you feel like you need to move, tell mommy or daddy, and you can stand up to stretch or take a walk to the bathroom.
- Sometimes we can feel the plane move; it’s called turbulence. When this happens, you shouldn’t be scared. It’s kind of like a ride at an amusement park!
Bribery Will Get You Everywhere
Bribery, or positive reinforcement, is a trick of the trade when it comes to traveling with kids—don’t be ashamed. Make no mistake, behaving on an airplane for any length of time is a real challenge for any young child. They should be praised and rewarded for the good behaviors they display so they will continue to do so. Some parents bring small treats like M&Ms or fruit snacks to reward good behavior while others wrap up little “gifts” like matchbox cars or coloring books and distribute them to their kids throughout the flight when they are being good. Decide on a reward plan for your kids before you hit the airport and make it happen so they can have something to “work” for.
Keep It Up
Kids don’t naturally sit still in quiet, it’s just not how they operate. The only way they will learn how to behave on a plane is if you put them in a situation where they have to practice. It’s going to take a trip or two, but you’ll be surprised by how quickly they get on board. And just remember, if your little nugget is having a bad day, it happens to us all sometimes. While some people huff and puff about kiddos on planes, the majority of people around you have been in the same exact position as you have at some point in their life, and they sympathize with your plight. Keep your head up and before long, the tiniest family members will be airplane pros.