I’m here to tell you that a toddler on a plane does not have to be worse than snakes on a plane, neither the ludicrous situation or the terrible movie.
Now a baby on a plane is another thing entirely. A baby is going to do what a baby is going to do. There’s just no bribing or reasoning. The best you can hope for is sleep. So pay the extra money for overnight flights and overfeed them if necessary.
Now a toddler on the other hand is totally susceptible to bribery. Lucky you. This is not the moment for perfect parenting; this is an ordeal to get through in one piece. So read on to find out how I convinced my daughter at the age of two that a nine hour flight is the best thing ever.
- The Take-Off Treat. Sitting still is sooooo hard when walking is a novelty. Undoubtedly your child will want to stand up as soon as the seat belt sign goes on. My daughter was also startled by the loud roar of the engine as we prepared for take off. One look in her tear-welling eyes and I knew I had to act fast. So I quickly pulled a bag of M&Ms out of my purse and wrote this song on the (literal) fly: “Take off treat! Take off treat! You can eat it in your seat!” Then I gave her one M&M at a time and we sang quietly until the plane started to level out and her anxiety was gone. This song has become a family favorite and my daughter tells me all the time that she can’t wait for our next flight and her special take-off treat.
- Little Toy Sets. Bring a stash of new little toys and then pull them out one at a time over the course of the flight, usually when a meltdown seems eminent. We got a cheap little set of 12 tiny My Little Ponys that made their appearance over the course of our month and a half trip to Europe. Several of them made their debut mid-flight. Extra points for presents than can be hidden. Make a big deal of the search for them and reminisce about where you found them later in the trip. Even more points for the extra time it takes to unwrap presents.
- Reusable Stickers. Simply brilliant. Easy to pack. you can get a lot of mileage out of reusable stickers.
- Snacks. Duh. The slower to eat the better. You can usually bring juice boxes through security if you submit them and yourself to a search and pat down.
- Games and Videos. I stocked the iPad with new toddler games and preloaded some of her favorite videos. In real life, shoving an iPad in a kids’s face when they’re about to have a meltdown can lead to some serious judgement (hey, not from me!). On a plane, it will earn you a good citizen award.
- Field Trips. No one can be expected to sit still for hours, least of all your toddler. So why not make going to the bathroom an adventure. Have a look around the plane. Stretch your legs. Say hi to the flight attendant. This may be all new to your child and kids are natural explorers. Even the bathroom can be interesting. Look it’s tiny! But for the easily startled, you may want to warn them that the flush is going to be very loud.
- Attention. Sometimes there are so many distractions that it’s hard to make time to truly focus on your kid. The phone’s ringing, you’re getting ready for work, you haven’t posted to Instagram in a few days…Well now’s your chance. You’re on a freakin plane for hours on end. Listen and ask questions. Let her make up stories. Your child will be so happy to be the center of your universe again that they will learn to love travel.