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Young Children on a Plane... Does It Have to be a Nightmare?

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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annoying kids on airplane

I do a lot of air travel throughout the year and just returned from multi-stop flights over the holidays. And, of course, there were young children a-plenty.

Now, for some, this is an anticipated nightmare, requiring logic and strategic planning to avoid the same aisle, let alone the dreaded seat adjacent to a baby or little kid. If these fail, the inevitable leads to the classic stink eye being cast towards parent and child, along with hushed, but still audible remarks about, “If I were that child’s parent…”

bitchy resting face

First off, I do respect a person’s desire for some peace and quiet and personal space during a flight. That being said, I believe a few things about public air travel with small children need to be understood.

Unless you can somehow locate an adults-only flight, chances are there will be a young child close to you. Yes, there certainly are parents who embark on a flight totally unprepared. Travelling with children is definitely part of parenting children. A smooth, relatively stress-free flight has a lot to do with pre-planning… not distributing bags of goodies and apology letters to fellow passengers. And, it’s not that hard. Depending on the time of the flight in relation to the child’s regular schedule and the duration of the trip, a savvy parent can take steps to dodge a lot (maybe not all) of the associated issues.

Fact: Young children are going to act like young children. What they do is developmentally appropriate. A 2-year-old’s 2-minute attention span is not going to magically lengthen to an hour while on a plane. Nor is his desire to handle everything, climb, and have emotional outbursts going to disappear.

Parents should pack a little “lifesaving bag.” This should include things like a favorite lovey and light blanket, a variety of healthy snacks in individual bags, and an empty sippee cup for the flight attendant to fill. There should be at least 2 absolutely new toys the child has never seen before, a pad of blank paper and small box of crayons, and some intriguing items to manipulate… like a 2-week size plastic pill minder with the little doors that open and shut. Put a Cheerio into each compartment to discover or for older children, some trinkets or little pom poms. Then, a set of children’s volume-controlled headphones, in case there’s a Curious George video on the tablet. (Not everyone cares to listen along). Most important: something to have in the child’s mouth to promote swallowing when changing altitude (during take-off and landing) to equalize ear pressure. This is so often forgotten, which leads to that 130 decibel scream no one likes.

Keeping the child buckled in for the flight (carseat or otherwise) only makes sense. If it is a longer flight, a couple walks down the aisle will do wonders, but then back to being buckled up. A parent might think his child is being adorable when he leans over the seat back and babbles at the passengers behind, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly… trust me.

baby looking between seats on plane

As a passenger, I have spent more than a handful of flights next to a toddler other than my own. Most of the time, the parent did an admirable job of soothing and occupying. But, I have also been in situations where the parent was at a total loss as to what to do.

Since the airline policy of open-seating guarantees a toddler seat-mate a good percentage of the time, I have taken to making my own preparation in anticipation of helping out.

I’ll carry some wrapped, loop-handle suckers, a few, small plastic toys, a pad of paper and crayons, and an individually wrapped packet of graham crackers. These items take up minimal space in my purse (or in anyone’s carry-on!), but have often provided maximum peace of mind for me and those in the rows around me.

It’s easy to criticize and complain, but why can’t we simply be helpful and caring? I have acquaintances who like to toss around the phrase, “It takes a village…” in their professional space, but then become easily aggravated by a restless child on an airplane. Maybe it’s time to start walking the talk.

baby on plane

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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Tuesday, 19 March 2019