Monday, November 22, 2010

Flying With Kids

I awkwardly pulled my laptop out from under the seat in front of me while trying not to spill the little plastic cup of soda and bag of pretzels precariously balanced on my airplane tray table. My son across the aisle from me whined, “Mommy, I’m hungry!”  Then his brother said, “I need to go potty!”
Meanwhile, my two youngest children sitting next to me were impatiently waiting for me to start the Dora movie on the laptop.  “We want Dora!” they chanted.  They had not yet comprehended how computers are not instant satisfaction on startup.  At the same time, my husband (who was sitting next to the two older children across the aisle) had his eyes closed, resolutely ignoring the boys as they tried to get someone’s attention to feed them and take them to the bathroom.

Hmmm… Are we there yet?  

Thank goodness it was only a two hour flight.  The last flight we took as a family was over four hours and that was easily the maximum capacity for my two-year old for flying on a plane.  After that, I vowed no more long flights until he was older.

Flying with kids can be a challenge or it can be smooth-sailing.  Very much it depends on the age of your child, the length of your flight, and the time of day of your flight.  

I love to travel, and I really enjoy taking my kids places so that they can experience sights and adventures that I never had the opportunity to see and do as a child.  I even actually enjoy flying with my kids (usually).  However, I enjoy it more when they are older than three years of age and when I have enough adults around to help me.  Let’s just say it’s a little less stressful and a whole lot less to pack.

It’s amazing how much STUFF a baby needs.  I remember taking my oldest on a flight when he was five-months old.  He was a tiny little baby, and he had an entire full-size suitcase dedicated to him and his STUFF.  You know what I’m talking about – the diapers, the wipes, the bottles, the warmer, the clothes, and the backup clothes, the baby soaps and shampoos, the bibs, and the backup bibs, the blankets, etc.  Not mention the car seat, portable high chair, toys, and so on.  

So, how to survive a flight with your little one?  Here are some ideas (based on age):

Young Infant – the nice part of this age is that entertainment is not necessary.  Most of the times they are content to eat, sleep and poop as they normally do when not in an airplane.  The biggest issue will be helping them to “pop” their ears and equalize the pressure in them during the flight.  Generally, if your ears are popping, their little ears are trying to do the same.   To help your baby with this, make sure that he/she is swallowing during takeoff and landing.  You can do this by feeding your baby during these time periods.   Just make sure to pack extra clothes and diapers, including extra clothes for you in case of unexpected spit-up or diaper accidents.

Check the TSA website listed later in this blog post to familiarize yourself with rules regarding bringing formula or breastmilk onto the airplane.

Older Infant/Toddler – This is a challenging age for flying.  You can certainly fly successfully with a toddler, but timing is of utmost importance in this age group.  Choose your flight time by avoiding anything near naptime or bedtime.  Tired toddlers make lousy travel companions.  Pack plenty of snacks, favorite toys and distractions.   If at all possible, try to book nonstop flights to minimize the total travel time.  For really long flights, a break in the middle at a connecting city for a few hours may be ideal – however leave enough time so that you won’t be running for a connecting flight with a toddler in tow.  

Bring your stroller all the way to the gate and check it in at the gate just before you board.  It will make getting all your belongings and your baby to the plane easier.  Also, bring an empty sippy cup and then buy something in the airport to fill it, or ask them to fill it on the airplane with water or juice.
Some pediatricians recommend bringing along an weight-appropriate dose of Benedryl along in case your toddler is really having a difficult time with the trip.  Benedryl is an allergy medication that generally causes drowsiness as a side effect.  However, be aware that a small percentage of children actually get hyper on Benedryl.  Therefore, it is wise to test this at home before you discover that your toddler is wild after taking Benedryl on the airplane!

Children Ages 2-4 Years Old – This age group generally loves airplanes… at least they love looking at them.  Flying in them may be a different issue.  Reading about flying or going on an airplane is a good idea if this is your child’s first trip.

I usually try to buy a surprise activity for each child to do on the airplane – a new coloring book or new activity that travels well.  The fun of trying out a new coloring book and new markers will entertain most children for at least a portion of the trip.  Don’t give it to them until you are actually on the plane to enhance the surprise (and distraction) factor.

Also, while I don’t normally advocate video watching – a portable DVD player or laptop or ipod can work wonders to keep little minds occupied for a good portion of longer trips.   Taking a few walks up and down the aisle midflight helps to break the monotony of sitting in the seat.  Feeding children in this age group just before you fly, or bringing food on the plane, is also a great way to pass the time.

School-Aged Children and Older – Luckily, this age group tends to be able to entertain themselves.  Favorite activities include books, handheld games, and MP3’s make flying a more enjoyable and less boring experience for this group. Let them pack their own backpack and have them each carry their own carry-on.  It makes traveling much easier (especially if you can pack things for a younger sibling in their bag also!). 

Again, food is an excellent way to pass the time, so bring a meal onboard and give them something to do.  This will also ensure that they will not be hungry during the flight.

With the many travel rules these days from TSA, it’s a good idea to check out their website for rules about traveling with children.  They have a useful website at:

So, I hope this helps if you have little ones traveling by plane this holiday season!  If you tried some tricks for successful flying that have worked for your children, please share them by posting a comment!  

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Time to Sleep – I wish!

“Mommy… can you cook my oatmeal?” said a soft voice.  I felt a small but insistent tug on my arm. 

Groggily, I opened my eyes and looked blearily at the little face peering up at me.  I looked at the clock, and it glowed, “5:45 A.M.”  I looked down at my almost-three year old son who was bright-eyed and alert, holding up a half-opened packet of instant oatmeal.  “I’m hungry… you cook my oatmeal?” he demanded much more loudly.  

Ughhh... I hate daylight saving time.

Daylight savings time was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 and was designed to help us make the most of the natural sunlight variations of the seasons.  If we use natural sunlight most optimally, then overall we save on energy and electricity costs for lighting and appliances.  While this idea may make sense, it can be difficult to make that transition twice a year, especially for children.  

So, how can you help your child adjust quicker?
  1. Light-blocking curtains.  This is especially useful in the spring when bedtime is suddenly at a time when the sun is still bright and shining.  Every spring, we change the clocks forward.  Without fail at bedtime, one of my kids will say, “It’s not nighttime!” and show me how bright it is outside our windows.    So, I then show them the clock, reassure that it is indeed nighttime and then usher them rapidly into their bedrooms where they can’t see the sunlight because the curtains have light-blocking liners.  It also works for the fall time change so that the ones who wake up with sunlight, don’t wake up so early.  These types of curtains can be purchased at many home goods stores.
  2.  Change the clocks earlier in day.  Technically, we are supposed to switch at 2 a.m… but I don’t suppose that anyone actually stays awake to change the clocks.  Therefore, change it before your kids go to bed and keep bedtime at the “new” time.  For example, my children go to bed at 8 p.m.   So, I changed the clocks around 5 p.m. to reflect the new time (turned it back to 4 p.m.)  Then they slept at the new 8 p.m. (which was 9 p.m.) and then they were supposed to sleep the full ten hours (apparently my youngest son did not get the memo).  It just gives your family the chance to adjust on Saturday and Sunday, instead of just on Sunday. 
  3. Adjust nap times gradually.  For little children, adjusting naps by 15-30 minutes a few days ahead of the scheduled clock change helps to make the 1 hour switch less painful. 
  4. Shut off technology.  While it’s tempting to use that extra hour to watch TV, play video games, text, or surf the Web, it has been shown that all of these stimulate our brains, and interfere with our bodies to “shut down” easily.  Turn off all electronic devices at least one hour before you go to sleep.  This is true any time of the year.
  5. Calming rituals before bed.  Stretching, massage, lavender baths, stories, soothing songs, and so on.  Look for ways to relax your child so that sleep will come easily.  
  6. Eat healthy and exercise the next day.  One of the best ways to combat fatigue is to eat a good breakfast that is high in protein and fiber.   Then exercise sometime during the day to get the natural endorphins that fight fatigue.  Do this as a family and you’ll all feel better.
So, if you are still adjusting the time change, try some of the above to get back on track. 

Of note, when it gets dark so early, it can be very hard in the evenings to stay energized and alert.  Studies have shown an increased number of car accidents and pedestrian accidents just after the autumn clock change because it is so dark and we are more tired as we drive in the evenings.  So, please be extra careful as you are driving or walking around after dark these next few weeks.

Thanks for reading!