When you were younger, you probably had that flight with kids — the wonderful flight where you were stuck next to some crying infant for three hours and ended up fantasizing about punting the child off the plane.
Well, now you have children and are worried about inflicting that experience on other passengers. And even if you are not flying, a several-hour car ride with children can be a frustrating experience without preparation.
Here are five methods which any parent can use to ensure that a long trip becomes an unmemorable, ordinary trip where your children don’t find new ways to surprise you.
1. Prepare in advance
If you are taking a long trip, it does not matter how you get there. Every minute you waste trying to find a flight or hotel room or gas station is a minute more your child spends in transportation and a minute more where they get crankier.
Book your flight and hotel room in advance instead of driving around at 8 PM trying to find the next decent hotel. If you are driving, plan your rest stops in advance and liven things up by finding a park or roadside attraction so the kids will be entertained by visiting someplace new.
2. Don’t pack sugar
You will want snacks for your children to keep them occupied. Lifehacker recommends that you should offer milk, juice, or gummy worms to small children during the beginning and end of a flight to relieve them of the discomfort of changing air pressure. Older children can chew gum.
But sugar means active kids, and you don’t want your kids to be hyper whether they are sitting in a plane or car. Cheerios are a good snack choice, as is fruit or crackers. Try to give your children their own containers so there are no conflicts over sharing.
3. Be mindful of airport security
The above notice on bringing milk and juice on a flight may be confusing given TSA regulations on liquids. But the TSA website does note that “formula, breast milk and juice for infants or toddlers are permitted through the security checkpoint.” In order to get it through, notify a TSA officer in advance and they will screen your child’s drinks with an X-ray.
Also, make sure that children are aware they need to go through security, and treat it like a little game to keep them interested. Children under 12 can keep shoes and light jackets on, but their toys and favorite items must be placed on the X-ray belt, and no toiletries, like soaps and shampoos, are allowed through most airport security checks. Make sure your child understands they can get their teddy bear back in just a bit so that they do not throw a tantrum upon being separated. If your child cannot walk, then you will need to hold them as you walk through the metal detector.
Perhaps most important of all is to make sure that your children understand that making “I have a gun” jokes towards airport security is never acceptable. Make it clear that such a joke could see their vacation delayed or even outright cancelled, as a parent could pay a fine for the child’s mistake.
4. Keep them entertained
Obviously, you want to bring some toys, coloring books, or other items to keep the kids distracted during the trip. But there are things you can do to ensure they stay occupied and quiet over the next few hours.
If you have multiple children, try to have enough distractions for everyone. For example, multiple small coloring pencil packs is better than one large set, because it will make it less likely that your kids will fight over one particular color.
An iPad or tablet can have plenty of apps or games which can keep the kids distracted for a while, but don’t depend on that or DVDs alone. Make sure they have non-technological pursuits as well, and keep the entertainment varied so your child can move from one form of entertainment to the next.
5. Do NOT drug your children
I think it is ridiculous that I even need to write this section, but there are a growing number of parents who believe that sedating their children before a long flight is acceptable. It is not.
Over-the-counter medicines such as Benadryl can have unpredictable and dangerous effects when used on very young children. As the BBC notes, the chair of the American Academy on Pediatricians observed that many of the drugs used to sedate kids are not actually designed to do so, but do it as a side effect.
If you do intend to use drugs, at least test it on your child before using it on the plane. The last thing you want is to give your child a new drug, only for the child to have an adverse reaction while you are thousands of feet up in the air.
Featured photo credit: David D via flickr.com