10 Tips for Keeping a Toddler Busy & Happy on a plane

We were on hols in South Africa and the little girl behind me could have done with some of these tips…….. ! I had to bite my tongue a few times on the long 12 hour flight !!

So, you’ve packed the bags, cancelled the papers and are really looking forward to being away for a couple of weeks free from the usual routine but you’re really anxious about keeping your young kids occupied on that long plane flight.

Besides packing a few great new travel toys that your toddler hasn’t seen before, you’ll want to have some airplane activities that won’t break, get lost or cost the earth.

So here are some practical tips for travelling with toddlers and preschoolers that will help you to relax, enjoy the journey and help you all arrive with your sense of humour!

1. Bathroom

Make sure that your toddler has used the toilet before boarding the aircraft as they are spacious and much cleaner compared to the aircraft ones! It’s also a good idea to carry a supply of baby wipes and be sure to put them in a place where you can easily reach them throughout the flight.

2. Seat choice

Only choose bulkhead seats if your baby needs a baby bed as the armrests can’t be moved. Normal seats are far better if your baby or toddler wants to lie down on the seat with their head on your lap as the armrests can be moved up which is far more comfortable.

3. Ear pressure

If your baby is breastfeeding or on a bottle, give them the breast or bottle during take-off & landing as it is the best thing for their sensitive ears. They will be more relaxed and far less distressed and you will feel more at ease too.

If your child is older, then carry cotton wool or ask for earplugs as soon as you board the aircraft. Make use of them for take-off then save them for landing as the crew may not have any fresh ones left by then. Or play a yawning game with them to see how many times they can yawn on take off or landing as this helps pop their ears so the pressure doesn’t cause them discomfort.

4. Food

Carry a supply of biscuits, water, juice & healthy snacks for your toddler. Raisins are great for keeping little hands and minds occupied for quite awhile and also carry milk packets (the UHT small packets) yourself. Airline snacks run out in flight and milk is a shortage very often too so bring your own so you won’t panic if they run out.

5. Bottle heating

If you ask the crew to heat up your baby bottle check the temperature of the liquid yourself periodically and don’t depend on the crew as they are extremely busy. Most crew in Economy Class are not mothers themselves (as they are very young) so they don’t necessarily know the right temperature for your child’s feed. Airline crew are most willing to help but it’s always best to take responsibility for your own child’s bottle.

6. Health

If your child has a cold it’s a good idea to see a doctor before the flight to check if your child is fit to fly. Toddlers flying with a cold can experience terrible pain during take-off & landing and it’s also dangerous to their eardrums too!

7. Clothes

Always carry a change of clothes for your child and it is a good idea to carry a change of top / t-shirt for yourself too. You never know when you will need it…

8. Rubbish

Get a carrier or plastic bag from the crew, to put your rubbish in as you go along. It helps to keep your area clean and more organised. Also take fragranced bags with you to dispose of your nappies before putting them in the toilet bins provided.

9. Books

It’s always a great idea to carry reading books (new ones as well as old favourites), colouring books and crayons, as well as an ipod with their favourite songs and stories to listen to.

If you can carry a portable DVD player they are usually a big hit with toddlers. If you bring your own DVD player and your child’s favourite DVDs then you will have full control over the content and also the timing of their video entertainment which is good for maintaining a healthy balance about how much they watch. Another alternative might be to play their DVDs on your laptop.

10. Games to play

Toddlers often get naughty when they experience long delays to their journey, so being prepared is half the battle.

Pack a goody bag filled with activities to keep them occupied and busy and include things like play dough, a few blocks, some small board books, a little car or your toddler’s favourite teddy. You could also wrap each item in wrapping paper a few times too and play pass the parcel with them, to add to the fun and excitement.

These ideas are best and most effective for keeping your child occupied during the normal waking hours on a flight as they encourage your child’s imagination and creativity.

Put some fun pictures onto your digital camera of the people and places you are going to visit or pictures of a recent trip you’ve been on, like to the zoo, for your child to look at. During the flight, you can relive the fun and tell stories about where/who you’re visiting. It will keep your little one busy and relaxed which will make the flight a pleasurable one for all of you.

When the flight attendant delivers drinks, ask for a cup, a couple ice cubes, and a straw. There are endless games you can make up with this combination as ice is fascinating to toddlers. Make sure that the ice doesn’t end up in their mouth though as it is a choking hazard.

Bring a book of Finger Rhymes to teach your toddler. Great ones are “Finger Rhymes” by Marc Brown and “Little Hands, Finger Plays & Action Songs: Seasonal Activities” by Emily Stetson and “365 Games Smart Toddlers Play” by Sheila Ellison

Learning how to fasten and unfasten an “old fashioned” seatbelt, jacket zipper and poppers or buttons on their clothing (or a carry on bags) can keep them occupied for a long time too.

And don’t forget the old favourite of peek- a- boo if you’ve got friendly neighbours and “I spy”!

It’s all about relaxing, imagining the journey going really well a couple of nights before you fall asleep, so your unconscious gets ready for the journey positively, and planning ahead. It’s also about being flexible and relaxed when unexpected things happen that you have no control over. Toddlers will pick up on your vibes so lighten up, chill out and have a brilliant holiday!

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About the author

Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the  famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.

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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
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