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Question: I’m traveling with my 18-month-old daughter Lily on a three-hour plane trip without my husband, and I’m afraid my daughter will cry and won’t sleep. You know how other people are when they see you with a baby on a plane—they just hope you’re not going to sit next to them! What can I do for my daughter and myself to make this plane ride a good one? —Carlyn Hinds, Nipono, Calif.
Answer: Here are a few practical tips. Request a bulkhead seat so you’ll have extra space to move around. Bring a few little activities, such as a small, sticky flannel board with pieces she can pull off and put back on. Have a variety of snacks and a few of her favorite books that you can read again and again. Ask the flight attendant when would be the best times to walk up and down the aisle. There may be some passengers you can visit who like children. One reason kids start screaming on an airplane is because of the pressure in their ears.
To avoid this, have your child suck on a bottle or pacifier, or nurse if you can, especially at takeoff and landing. If your child has a cold, talk to your pediatrician before traveling about using an over-the-counter decongestant. If your daughter does cry, stay as calm and relaxed as possible. She will pick up on how you feel.
Try to remember that the crying won’t last forever, it’s not the end of the world and you’ll probably laugh about it later. Breathe, hum, do what you can to calm yourself. If you get frustrated, you can acknowledge that with your toddler and say, “I’m frustrated, too.” Since your husband won’t be with you, consider bringing along photos of him. You can go through them with your daughter and tell a story about each photo.
Our reader tried these tips! Here was her feedback:
On the way to see my family, I had booked a night flight. I brought lots of snacks, little books and pictures of Daddy, and they did keep my daughter interested—for a while.
Just as she was about to fall asleep, the lights came on so food could be served, and she woke up and was confused about what was happening. She was so tired she had a tantrum. I tried to stay calm, but I couldn’t. I have to say, the other passengers were actually very nice.
I think my big mistake was to believe that a night fl ight would be easier. The return flight was much easier because she fell asleep before the plane took off. I would suggest to other parents that it’s probably best to fl y when a toddler is awake, rested and in a good mood so you can engage her with all the activities you have for her. Next time I’m going to book a fl ight that leaves in the morning.
Janis Keyser, a teacher of early childhood education at Cabrillo College near Santa Cruz, Calif., is the coauthor of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years (Broadway Books). Nicole Gregory is a writer and editor who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.