Air Travel with Young Children: Airport, Airplane, and the Air Pressure?

by Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.

Vacations are fun…for most people. For those who have young children, it can be a bit want blankiestressful to think about how to prepare and what to do while traveling with your little ones. Just explaining the situation won’t work with young children. Kids at this developmental stage are in the middle of toilet training or at the tail end of it, have a strong desire to be independent, and have an abundance of curiosity and a desire to explore. None of these qualities are bad if you’re in your typical surroundings. However, add in the security line, “random” searches, being strapped in seat belts, changes in air pressure, and limited access to bathrooms, and it can turn ugly. Just imagine a child not wanting to separate from her “blankie” being told it has to be put into a container and scanned by a security camera.

With children at this age, it is not only helpful, but crucial, to share a simple overview of what is going to happen during the day. Since it is not a typical day, it helps them to have a sense of what to expect. Here are some tips to help with the process:

  • Use children’s natural tendency to want to be in charge and be independent. Make your child your traveling helper. (You can even make him or her a little badge out of one of those “My name is” stickers or a blank label.) Explain some of the rules beforehand, such as needing to take off jackets and shoes. You’ll find that kids at this age LOVE knowing the rules and especially telling others that they’re not following the rules.
  • Remember that kids, like adults, function best when their physical needs are met, including their needs for food, sleep, and bathroom. Gauge and assess what your child might need physically. If there is a physical need, try to fill it for him or her. If you’re unable to provide it, however, such as when sleep is interrupted due to a delayed flight, try to soothe your child by sitting and helping your child to calm his or her body down. When children are extremely tired, their bodies go into overdrive, and instead of sleeping, they might appear to have lots of energy. Do not wait for them to crash. Although there is a widespread belief that kids will crash if you let them work out their overactiveness, it is actually more helpful to assist them in calming their body down. Sit with your child and perhaps sing his or her favorite lullaby softly. This will calm your child’s senses, which his or her body needs when in overdrive.
  • Roughly plan out your child’s elimination needs. Whenever you think he or she needs to go, you go, too. Tell your child that it’s potty time for everyone.
  • Have a little emergency food bag with your carry-on so you’re prepared for possible travel delays.
  • Create a story or use a storybook to help you during your trip. Books such as Fly with Kai offer kids knowledge and models to know about in-flight experience.

With some preparation and planning ahead, the process of traveling doesn’t have to be so stressful.

For permission to reprint this article, click here.
© 2011 Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D.  All rights reserved.

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