Tips for Air Travel with an Active Toddler

Flights can be among the most stressful and unmanageable times for your toddler, and for you if your toddler is especially active. After all, a confined space, distractions, strangers, noisy announcements, and air pressure changes are only a few ingredients that can lead up to one horrible flight. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a long flight with your toddler.

  • Take care of yourself. You will not be able to take care of anyone else effectively unless YOUR needs are met. When you are taken care of, you can approach the flight from a calmer mindset. Remember, your toddler looks to you for cues when in a new environment. If you are worked up, they are worked up. If they are worked up, try your best to breathe and offer the support you can without depleting your energy.
  • Get wiggles out before getting onto the plane! Find the kids play room in the airport, MOST will have them, and encourage your little one to play their little heart out. If the airport does not have a kids play space, try to get your toddler to expel as much energy as they can. Walk around the airport, watch the trucks and planes from the window, climb up and down on the chairs at the gate, play chasing games, or have them push their own stroller around. Anything they can do physically is great, so that they are ready to sit for the first hour or so on the flight.
  • If you didn’t buy your toddler a seat, go to the flight desk and ask if there are any openings. Most of the time, international flights will not be full, and the staff will be happy to relocate you to a row with an extra seat so that you have more space for playing and napping.
  • Bring simple yet effective distractions to keep little hands busy and happy. One of my favorites is a roll of scotch tape. My toddler could play for hours with tape: unrolling it, trying to cut it, wrapping it around his fingers, sticking it to the chair, to my forehead, to his body, there are countless ways to play with tape. Something else we’ve done that takes up time and gives LOTS of smiles is trying on daddy or mommy’s clothes, like a hat, jacket, bracelets, and shoes. Be creative and offer something totally new to your little one so that they will be entertained.
  • Bring a new and stimulating toy or book that you know your toddler will like and occupy himself with. The newness shouldn’t wear off for a couple hours, especially when reintroduced multiple times during the flight. Try to avoid anything with wheels because it’s likely it will get lost.
  • Take walks up and down the aisles. When you are no longer required to wear a seat belt and when the aisles are clear of food carts, take your little one for a walk. Practicing counting the rows as you walk back. Say hello to other passengers and maybe even other children. Try walking backwards or while standing on your feet. Take a visit to the bathroom to show your kiddo the lights, the sink, and other items that look completely different than usual to them.
  • Bring noise canceling headphones. When I can tell that my little one is getting sleepy, I put noise canceling headphones on him and carry him down the aisle once or twice while rocking him. This distraction keeps him from immediately pulling the headphones off. I lay him down in his own seat and pat him until he falls asleep. It may take a couple tries and cries.
  • Always bring snacks or cook a meal ahead of time. Airplane food can be weird and totally new to toddlers. Having a back up option that is familiar is essential to keep them nourished and happy. I like to bring fruit and vegetable or applesauce pouches, cooked pasta in a thermos, and granola bars. Don’t forget to bring water for both of you.

If all else fails and your treasured toddler turns into a tyrant, just know that sometimes there is not much you can do except be there for them. Toddlers have many emotions, many of which we don’t fully understand, and sometimes they just need to get it out to clear it. Forget about bothering others on the plane, that is not where your energy needs to go. Know that you are doing your best and give yourself credit!


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