When you have young kids, one of the things that can trigger anxious feelings is having to travel with them. Because children are little people with a mind of their own, we can’t predict how they’ll behave during a trip. In an ideal world, they’d sit quietly, eat their snacks, take their naps and mind their business. Unfortunately, that isn’t always how it plays out. Not only can it be nerve-wracking when your kids act out, but you can also feel embarrassed by the judgmental looks of strangers or frustration from fellow passengers in response to your child’s behavior, which we’ve seen in recent times.
If you’re taking your kids on trips this summer, we’re here to remind you to be unapologetic about it. Kids are allowed to have big feelings in public and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Nevertheless, here are tips on keeping them engaged during your getaway and ways to deal with onlookers trying to shame you during your travels.
Bring a Range of Entertainment
Every child is entertained by different things and what works for one may not work for the other. Think about the top three things that keep your child engaged the longest at home and bring them on your trip with you. My son enjoys Legos, magnets, trucks and little toy animals, so I bring them in a backpack when we’re traveling. I also bring his tablet, but that typically doesn’t keep him engaged the entire trip.
Sunshine Abou Bakar, an avid traveler, owner of African Boheme and a mother of two based in the UK, has trekked to over 15 countries with her kids. She recommends bringing items like chalkboards, watercolors, and a blanket when needed.
“Confining a kid to a chair is hard but designating a place where they can create is a bit easier,” she says. “The watercolors are always a hit with fellow travelers and the kids now have paintings from friendly strangers in their notebooks,” Bakar adds.
If your kids go on trips with you often, consider having a designated travel activity bag for them. You can also get them involved in packing the bag so they can bring their favorite items in case you miss them.
Pack Plenty of Snacks
Most kids have bottomless bellies and can eat a pack of snacks in one sitting. This is why packing an abundance of them when traveling can be a good strategy for keeping your kiddos calm. Speaking of keeping calm, if your child gets a sugar rush every time they have candy, consider healthier snacks with less sugar so they aren’t hyper on the plane.
Remember, as long as snacks aren’t in liquid form, the security checkpoint shouldn’t give you any issues about bringing them through.
Ignore Disgruntled Onlookers
It can be embarrassing or even make you feel ashamed when you’re traveling and your child starts throwing a tantrum or crying uncontrollably. Whether it’s because they’re tired or you wouldn’t buy them the toy they saw in the duty-free shop, it can cause an unwanted scene.
When Bakar’s firstborn was four, she spent three months in Vietnam with her. There were times where she had public tantrums that were difficult, but Bakar learned to drown the noise out and focus on her child’s needs, especially when she wasn’t hurting herself or others.
“I realized that I’ll never see these strangers again, but me and my tiny tribe are forever. A momentarily disgruntled patron in a restaurant is not my concern, but my kid is,” she says.
She also isn’t of the belief that kids “act out” but rather that they are reacting to their surroundings and just being kids. She also adds that she has mostly positive experiences with strangers and her kids are more likely to be “screaming with glee than throwing tantrums in public.”
“It helps to remind adults that they are the ones with the developed prefrontal cortex, not my toddler, so they might as well behave like it,” she adds. “The idea that I should feel shamed because my children are happy and healthy while I expose them to the world is pretty silly when I say it out loud. So I’ve let go of that.”
On that note, do your best to help your child when they’re experiencing big emotions and don’t let the pressure of trying to live up to other travelers’ expectations make a stressful situation worse.
Help Them Burn Energy Before the Flight
One of the worst mistakes I have made while traveling is not working around my son’s sleep schedule. It can be hard to do when you’re traveling to a different time zone, but do the best you can. For instance, when we do long haul flights from South Florida to London, I choose an overnight flight. This way, we’re taking off close to his bedtime and he can sleep for the majority of the flight. When we do domestic flights, I try not to choose ones that are too early because my son is more likely to be irritable when he doesn’t have sufficient amounts of sleep.
Likewise, if your child still naps, consider booking a flight close to their nap time so you can get some quiet time on the plane.
Plan for Discomfort
Flying is sometimes uncomfortable for adults, so how much more uncomfortable is it for kids? Plan for issues like ear pain that can come from changes in pressure when the plane is taking off and landing. Hacks that sometimes work are using earplugs for kids, bringing something for them to chew on when the plane is taking off or landing, or giving them a bottle or pacifier if they’re little. Another option is to give them acetaminophen or ibuprofen before takeoff or landing.
To ensure your little one is more comfy than restless, think about anything else they may need. Pillows, their favorite blanket, a beloved teddy bear, socks, or a cozy sweater are some things that come to mind, and though small, they can make a big difference.