Flying with Kids
We booked the flight. We were going to be in Indonesia for 2 months for my husband’s internship. After much conversation we decided to take both kids. They were 20 months and 9 months old. The travel from where we lived included 9 hour flight, one layover, and a 12 hour flight. I had flown long distances, but this was my husband’s first flight. To say we were nervous was an understatement!
Since then we have flown internationally without or without kids many times. We are much less scared. In fact, our children love flying and it has become a past time for them. I do realize this is not the same for children who do not usually fly, but we have learned some things that will help anyone. Here is our best advice for anyone flying with kids of any ages.
Family Flight Advice
- Prepare the Children.
Always start with preparing the children. You have probably flown before or seen airports on movies. Though you may not be an experienced flyer, you know the general idea. You have some expectations and probably have an idea of what to do if things don’t go perfect. Lay that same frame work for your children. Go buy a book on flying. Several companies have now made some good ones! Check them out Here.
Explain to them the steps of going through security, what to do with luggage, waiting at the gate, and getting on the plane. Talk to them about what it means to be taxiing before you start to fly. Set their expectations for the flight. When do they wear their seatbelt? When can they use the restroom? What are the rules and why? Explain to them these rules are for their safety and the safety of others.
For younger children, you will want to do this closer to the time you will be leaving. Then remind them of what is going to happen next in the airport as you finish a step. For older children, you can tell them further out so they have time to ask questions as they come up in preparations. The goal is for them to have an idea of what is going on so that each new thing won’t be scary or unknown.
2. Set a Travel Rhythm.
One of the things we are most proud of is our travel rhythms, and airplanes are the best place to implement them! If you are on a shorter flight, then just having a couple of things for the kids to do should be fine. However, more than 2 hours and a travel rhythm is perfect. Basically, a travel rhythm is where you discuss several things that can keep your children busy and schedule it into a rotation. (Look at the full post on travel rhythms here!)
You can pick the specifics that best fit your kid and will help your child be in more control over how they get to spend their flight. With flying you want to keep anything on the rotation within what your child can bring in a carry-on bag. Most of the time you will be packing activities anyways, but instead of your child quickly going through what they have you can help them schedule out their time so they are entertained the entire flight. Our children have gotten good at scheduling their travel rhythm. They love having control over their time. I also like it because I will not have to be helping them the entire time. I can have a copy of their rhythm with me and know how to help them work in restroom breaks and snack breaks.
3. Give them a Job.
One of the things we always do with our kids is keep their hands busy and set boundaries. Airports are tough to navigate and when kids are not paying attention it does not take much for them to be separated from you. Also, when kids are bored their curious minds tell their hands to get into things they shouldn’t. It is especially hard to focus when things change and the parents look stressed. With each line (because there are lots of lines and lots of waiting) we give each of our children a job. Here are some examples of jobs we have given our kids:
“We are going to be in line for a bit, can you help me make sure the luggage stays on the trolley?”
“In security they are going to check your bags. I need you to watch exactly where your bag needs to go. If you do not understand just ask.” (Security people love it when kids try to help!)
“We need to wait in this line a little longer, can you stand close to me and make sure I always have my bag and you always have your bag?”
“Looks like we will be at this gate until the big hand on the clock is pointing at the 6. Here are the places you can go, but we need to stay in these places. Everyone has their assigned spot and we don’t want to take someone else’s spot.”
“As we are walking on this walkway, can you hold my hand (or put your hand on the trolley) and tell me some interesting things you see?” (This is particularly helpful to keep them focused on talking and not wanting to veer off from you.)
Giving children jobs (even teens with age appropriate jobs) gives them the sense that they are needed and important. Make sure they know that you have to get through this as a family with everyone working together.
4. The Parent Sets the Tone.
This reminder is the hardest in the list. We all know how hard it is to keep our cool when the kids are having a meltdown. When things feel unknown or scary, meltdowns happen. So, we have some action steps that my husband and I have seen needs to happen to help us stay in control yet handle any situation. Here are some of the things we have in place:
We have to keep our head or have a way to keep our cool. My husband and I just tend to not get flustered in chaos. However, we are constantly watching each other to be there for support. If we see the other one is starting to lose their cool the other will step in and be the calm.
We have a saying in our family, “be the calm in the storm.” This saying helps us remember that it isn’t our children’s job to be the calm because they do not understand the situation the same that we do. Usually if we say that to each other, it helps clear our heads and gets us thinking about ways to work through the situation instead of freaking out. If one of us is having a hard time keeping calm, we know that that is the time to let the other one know. We have to be able to work together to keep any situation from spiraling out of control.
When something happens and a situation needs to be handled, we decide quickly who will handle the children and who will sort out the situation. Then we say out loud who is taking what. This helps us both keep our focus on a single task. If you are a single parent, have a game plan for your children. Maybe have a code word that means the kids jump into action focusing on a certain thing. For example, you could say, “When I tell you the codeword ‘alarm’ that means you put your right hand on the trolley and hold on very tight. You do not let go until I say the word ‘disarm’.” Of course, this is just an example, but use words that are age appropriate and practice so they understand immediately what to do. I would also consider using words only your family would understand. You probably do not want to freak out by-standers.
Prepare and Adjust
I hope you find some great ways to make flights easier for your family the more you fly. As you start notice what works and what doesn’t. Also, take into account the ages of your children with what works. That first flight may seem daunting, but with these tips our aim is that you feel much more prepared!
The Travel Rhythm Worksheet is included in each Travel Activity Book.