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Check out these sure fire strategies and airplane activities for toddlers. They worked for our cross-country flight with an active 2-year old. I hope they work for you too!
Sweet Pea was born five days before I turned 40 years old. So, basically I spent a good 20 years as an adult cringing every time a family with young children sat anywhere near me on a plane. Now, as we prepare to fly from Baltimore to Seattle with Sweet Pea for the first time, every judgemental stare and disapproving sigh comes rushing back to me as an ironic reminder that everything that goes around really does come around. Oh, but I hope that is wrong. I don’t want Sweet Pea to be ‘that’ child. I don’t want to be that parent!
Photo credit: Travnivokstudio/Dollar Photo Club
So, of course I over prepare. How could I not? The result is that I have amassed a pretty comprehensive list of preparations, ideas, and considerations. If you are getting ready to travel with an active toddler or two year old, I hope some of these ideas will help you prepare for ‘Battlefield Toddler- Airplane Edition!’
Getting to the airport and through Security
- Let’s face it. If you are traveling with children, you are not going to be traveling light. That being said, it is clearly not helpful to pack your entire house. I mean, you have to carry everything you bring and there are precious few capable hands to help with the hauling. What are some strategies for cutting down on the clutter? What are essential items to pack and other essential pre-flight to-do’s?
- A stroller– My husband and I debated the merits of bringing Sweet Pea’s stroller. We probably won’t use it much while we are on our vacation, especially since Sweet Pea is used to walking places without it. However, we ended up bringing it due to the bags-to-hands ratio and it turned out to be probably the best packing decision we made. The stroller allowed us to stow two of the carry-on bags, and Sweet Pea loved the novelty of cruising around in a new place armed with her sippy cup and Daniel Tiger. The stroller was the most useful though as we waited… waiting in line to go through security, waiting in line to board the plane. The stroller kept our active toddler contained and forestalled any early temper tantrums that could have arisen from our attempts to constrain her. During our layover, when we had to walk about 1 mile between gates, it was also handy to be able to push, rather than carry Sweet Pea. It was such a lifesaver all around. I would definitely recommend bringing your stroller and checking it at the gate.
- Lots of time to burn energy before the flight. I originally planned for us to leave about 3 hours before the flight so that we could stop off at a playground and let Sweet Pea run around a little. Yeah, that didn’t work out so much. However, as we were frantically running around taking care of last minute packing and cleaning, Sweet Pea was able to do a lot of playing. It was enough that once we boarded our first flight she was ready for her nap and promptly fell asleep for pretty much the entire first leg of the trip. Every kid is different so you should definitely assess your kids’ temperament and do what works for you. However, allowing Sweet Pea to burn off energy definitely worked for us.
- Diapers and wipes. This is dependent on where you are going and who you will be with, but if at all possible, plan to buy most of your needed diapers and wipes at your destination. There is no need to pack two weeks’ worth of diapers unless you want to justify an extra suitcase.
- Liquids that are allowed past security. Some of the items I wanted to bring on the plane for ‘happy toddler insurance’ included items considered liquids by TSA. I am happy to report that the following items breezed through security with no problems: Play-Doh (3 ounce container), Squeezable applesauce (3 ounce container), and Baby Tylenol.
On Flight Distraction Strategies
So, once you get onto the plane, the game changes. Ha! Here is the real test. Is your little one going to be happy and compliant? Or will he/she be a holy terror? The thing is, sometimes the kid who was perfect one flight will be horrible on the next one… and vice versa. Typically, the screaming kids have one of two issues:
- They are uncomfortable.
- They are bored.
Fixes for uncomfortable
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- Infants, toddlers, and young children oftentimes will have ear discomfort due to the changing cabin pressure. Unfortunately, they are too young to understand the concept of popping their ears. Earplanes help with the ear pressure and are supposed to be very effective. We did not end up using them on our flight because Sweet Pea didn’t show signs of needing them. We did have them on hand though.
- Lollipops and sippy cups. If your kiddo doesn’t know how to pop his ears, sucking on something like a lollipop or cup of apple juice might help with ear pressurization. We brought Disney Princess Lollipop Candy Rings and Sweet Pea spent a good 30 minutes playing with and sucking on it.
- If you want your child to sleep on the plane, it might be helpful to pack a favorite blanket in your carry on… something they associate with sleep. It might help them ramp down too, especially if they are overstimulated.
Car Seat or no Car Seat?
The decision we agonized over the most in the run up to this trip, was the question of whether or not Sweet Pea should be in her car seat during the flight. Even though safety is always a concern, safety was not driving this decision. The notion of keeping Sweet Pea contained in a five-point harness was though. Ultimately we decided to gate check the car seat. Sweet Pea was fine without it and sitting in her ‘big girl’ seat allowed the flexibility to put her head in our laps to fall asleep, and be able to use the tray table to eat and play. It was a good decision to not have Sweet Pea in the car seat.
Food on flight?
It is definitely worthwhile to decide how you will feed your kiddo while you are 30,000 feet above sea level. Logic would seem to dictate that high sugar foods and drinks should be avoided. However, special occasions (like airplane travel) also call for special treats, right? We tried to mainly stick to healthy snacks and meals, but then splurged on the candy lollipop ring and a small pack of Oreo cookies. We arrived at the airport early enough to get through security and have time to eat a decent pre-flight lunch. Sweet Pea and I shared a pasta salad and a fruit cup.
On the flight, we tried a number of snacks like the standard goldfish crackers and gummy fruits. Other snacky winners included dried apricots, crackers and hummus, packets of dried banana and carrot chips, and applesauce pouches. We decided to stick with water to drink both because we didn’t want liquid sugar pumped directly into the veins of a very active 2-year old, and because we knew she would get dehydrated simply from flying.
Fixes for a Bored Toddler
There are lots of great, cheap ideas for toddler activities that will keep crazy toddler at bay during a flight. I packed wayyyy more than we ended up needing, but will probably end up using most of the unused boredom busters as hotel/vacation toys anyway. Here is the quick list of what I packed:
1. Airport and Airplane-related activities. We packed a set of Airplanes Stickers (Dover Little Activity Books Stickers), Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport, and Sticker Fun! At the Airport Reusable Sticker Tote.
3. A matching game. I picked up Disney Classic Characters Matching Game because I thought it would be fun. Even if your kiddo is too small for the matching part of the game, they will probably love to sort, count, and generally look at all the pictures. For space sake, I took all the cards out of the box and packed them in a ziploc bag.
4. Wind up toys and other ‘silly’ toys. I packed about 5 or 6 small wind up toys and they were quite the hit for about 30 minutes on the flight. Also, you can get fun silly toys like mini-slinkies, squishy heads, etc… anything novel will entertain a toddler for at least 10-15 minutes, right?
5. Mini Play-Doh. I packed a ziploc with 4 colors of play-dough plus a few mini cookie cutters. Sweet Pea had a great time pulling it apart, cutting it, etc… Again, this probably bought us close to an hour of happy toddler time during the flight. Score!
6. Designer tape. Fun designs and really inexpensive. You can pick a few rolls in different prints up at wide variety of craft, toy, and home goods stores (like Target).
7. Stickers. Really, need I say more? You can keep a fussy toddler happy for a good 20-30 minutes with a few sheets of stickers and a 25 cent spiral notepad.
8. Dress up on the airplane! Costume jewelry is all the rage and you can get great stuff really cheap at a party goods store. Load up a little tin with rings, bracelets, sunglasses, scarves, necklaces… and spend some time playing airplane dress up!
9. Lauri Toddler Tote. This is a neat little travel-friendly toy that made of a foam-like material. It is a bunch of punch-outs, little pegboards, etc… So much fun!
10. Pipe cleaners and Wikki Stix Rainbow Pak. Everyone has heard of pipe cleaners, but Wikki Stix? They are kind of the same concept as pipe cleaners but sticky. Very nice for creating and manipulating in a confined space like an airplane.
11. $1 packs. Target, Wal-Mart, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Toys R Us– pretty much any store like this will sell a wide variety of $1 play packs– usually with stickers, crayons, an activity book, and sometimes even paper dolls. Added bonus– they are pretty small.
12. Movies,Videos. I might suggest saving the latest and greatest Elmo or Daniel Tiger episodes for a crisis moment on your flight— turbulence, hungry kid, really tired kid. However, as long as you have a decent pair of kid-sized headphones, letting your toddler zone out for a few episodes of their favorite show is a great way to peacefully pass the time!
13. Books! There will probably be enough ambient noise to make reading to your child difficult. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t love looking at the books anyway… especially a new ‘lift-the-flap’ book or a search and find book.
14. Faux/Non-Messy coloring and painting items. There are a few options here that are pretty decent and cheap. The Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote is a great option because you can customize the coloring pages to suit your kid’s interests. As long as you have access to water, you can also get a mini watercolor book as well.
15. Mini Magna Doodle. Let your kid draw to their hearts content!
16. Play money… why not?
17. Colorforms or Window Gel Stickies. Colorforms has a number of kits that appeal to younger children. We picked up Colorforms Fun Pockets Eric Carle Very Hungry Caterpillar Travel Kit. The window stickies are super cheap as well (and not messy). You can usually pick up seasonal sticky sheets at the dollar store.
18. Cheap party favors. Go to a party store and scour the party favor aisle for cheap and fun airplane toys. For less than $5 total, I picked up a wide variety of rubber bugs, a sunglasses assortment, notepads, edible necklaces and rings, jewelry, musical instruments (ok, maybe not appropriate for a flight), etc…
19. Magnetic or suction cup activity sets. The one I picked up was Magnetic Create-a-Scene Zoo. Sweet Pea will love this!
*20. Ok, I saved the best for last. When all else fails, break out that tablet or smartphone. FAA guidelines now stipulate that as long as your mobile device is on airplane mood, you can use it even on take-off and landing. So, stock it with some great personal photos so your kiddo can flip through pictures and admire themselves. Let them use the drawing app, the piano app (with headphones on of course), introduce them to some Sandra Boynton interactive app books or a new Disney store, or let them spend some quality time playing aroung with some of the high quality, educational and highly entertaining apps like Endless Alphabet, Pepi Doctor, or Pet Doctor. I could go on but you get the point.
So, all in all, our first flight with Sweet Pea was quite successful. I know I may have over-prepared, but the extra packets of stickers and goldfish crackers boosted my confidence that we would all make it through without having to profusely apologize to our fellow passengers for a screaming kid.
What ideas have you tried in the past that have worked? What didn’t work so well?
Thanks again for reading, and happy travels!