Flying with Preschoolers
By: Morgan Schoenrock
Flying with any age child can be a real challenge. Preschoolers will rock your parenting world in many ways, they’re an energetic reminder that the cuddly baby phase is over. If you have ever spent time with a preschool aged child you know they are just endless busy bodies, getting into anything and everything, with no real sense of fear or responsibility. It’s a daunting task to wrangle a preschooler onto an airplane, then keep them calm throughout the flight. Just like at home your parenting techniques flying with a baby and flying with a preschooler are two different ball games. Your child can now move, talk, and think independently; which can play in your advantage or make your trip challenging. Here are a few of the best tricks to flying with your preschooler I have tested over the years. As a mom you know the most important thing is to be prepared. Flying with kids isn’t the season in your life you are going to be traveling light.
Bring all the snacks! If there is one word my preschooler used more than ‘no’ it was ‘snack’. This is about the age where you start wondering how your child can even consume as many goldfish as they have. You will want to make sure you come prepared to feed this beast when the hunger hits on the plane. Preschoolers struggle when they feel like they don’t have a choice. My sons first flight outside the baby phase I packed a few of his favorite foods and called it good; He refused them all. Kids this age want to choose for themselves. A much better technique is to pack a small amount of LOTS of snacks and let them choose. A reusable food container inside an Out to Lunch lunchbox is perfect! My son loves helping fill his snack box the night before we leave for a trip.
Come with a secret weapon. When flying with a baby the toys you bring will be based off what is shiny or soft, and most the time they will be happy with the peanut bag. Preschoolers are not this easy. There is a strategy that has worked for me flying with my son, but it does require some preparation, and some emotional stamina. Three to four days before your flight your child’s favorite toys need to go "missing". Before every flight with my son between the ages of 2 and 4 I used this technique and it worked like a charm! Take a few of your child’s favorite toys and hold onto them till the flight. This will take some commitment on your behalf to keep hope alive that the favorite toys will return, and patience distracting them at home with other things. But it will all be worth it on the flight when you bust out the missing toys and they are so happy to see them they are entertained for an hour at least. These will not be the only toys you need to fly with, but this trick can buy you a good amount of peace.
New, shiny object. Every flight we took with our son as a preschooler we bought him a small new toy. It was usually something silly he had asked for and I didn’t want to spend money on at the time. I can think of a small robot dog, a light up stick, and a small Lego set off the top of my head. This new toy is for when kids lose interest in all the toys you’ve brought from home, and resort to bothering everyone around you. Bam! Break out surprise toy and buy some more time. Another form of bribery we use is with treats. If your kids are anything like mine they would cut off a limb for a sweet treat. As a preschooler my son wasn’t given sweet treats a lot, but the airplane was somewhere I always used them to help control behavior. Bring one chewy treat that they can munch on to pop their ears on takeoff and landing. This also helps distract them if they feel scared by the movement of the plane at those times. The other treat needs to be something small because you’re going to be giving them out a lot throughout the travel day to buy you time. I liked chocolate chips for this technique. When we were checking in and needed to focus on grown up things, chocolate chip to buy his silence. We get stuck in security for hours traveling at Thanksgiving, chocolate chip to prevent a massive meltdown. We landed but are stuck on the runway for a bit, chocolate chip. You see how this works!
Pack a change of clothes, for all of you. This is one of the rules about traveling with kids that may never go away even as they grow. You need a change of clothes with a baby because of blow outs and spit up but preschoolers present a whole new set of messes. I’ve needed a change of clothes more traveling with my preschooler than I ever did with him as a baby. Just think for a moment how many times your preschool aged child has spilled a food or drink, just in the past 24 hours. Now think about how you would feel if those things were spilled on your lap while on a plane and you couldn’t change. Trust me when I say you do not want to navigate an airport with your pants drenched in milk. This should lead you to two conclusions, bring a change of clothes for everyone, and think carefully about the snacks you provide your child on the plane.
Every flight I’ve ever been on I have been complimented upon arrival about how well my son behaved. I’m proud to say on several occasions people have turned around after landing and exclaimed they didn’t even know there was a kid behind them. Don’t be fooled, he has not behaved on every flight; but my techniques have kept his normal toddler outbursts under control. Some flights feel like a week-long to me just containing all his crazy behavior, others are smooth and easy. Either way I hope some of these tips will work for you and your family and you gain some confidence to travel with your preschooler. Bottom line is don’t be afraid to fly with your children of any age. Prepare for your flight, drink lots of coffee that morning, bring your Wanderwild pack, and know it will be worth it to see your little person explore a different place.
This is a trick my four-year-old still begs for. Bring a blanket and once you are air born drape it over the down tray and seat. It creates a small ‘cave’ under the tray. I buy a few glow sticks from dollar tree and he will play down there with the glow sticks sometimes for the entire flight!