Flying with a Toddler

My almost-17-month-old and I recently traveled by airplane to go home to visit a dear friend who just had her first baby.  Our trip included 2 flights each way.  I learned quite a bit about flying with a toddler during this trip.

I’d like to share what I learned in the hopes that it might help even just one of you who has never flown with her young child before.

Talk to moms you know who have been there, done that.

The best choice I made while preparing for this trip was to talk to another young mom at my church who flies with her toddler frequently.  She gave me lots of helpful info about the airports I was going through and even lent me some toys that had proven to be effective in keeping her son occupied in the plane.

You never know what kind of invaluable advice and tidbits of information you might glean from those who know you and your child.  These are the people who have the best insight into what will work for you and your child.

All the advice in the world cannot help you unless it is something that can actually work for you and your child.  Thoughtfully consider the advice you are given and think about how it would be for you to implement it.

Prepare your carry-on bag.

Your carry-on bag needs to carry all your essentials–diapers, wipes, snacks, etc.  It also needs to carry any toys/tools for entertaining your little one on the plane.

Don’t try to carry everything and the kitchen sink–remember that you need to carry this during any layovers while chasing your toddler.  Depending on how long your flights are, you might only need 1-2 toys and your phone or tablet with some strategic apps and videos pre-downloaded.  (I was lent some children’s headphones so that the apps/videos would not disturb other passengers.)

(Maybe you would have more luck with apps and videos with your toddler, but mine did NOT focus on it.  He was much more interested in all the people around him and just not sitting still in general–flying was too new for him!  The only time he really was entertained by an app was one that a kind grandma sitting next to us pulled up on her tablet during takeoff.  Everything is more interesting when it isn’t what your mom had planned for you!)

Prepare your attitude.

Your attitude and approach to the flight makes the biggest difference.  If you are anticipating and worrying about a disaster, that is what you are more likely to get.  Children will notice, as they always do, what state of mind you are in, and they will feel accordingly, whether it is fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, or a combination of any of these.

Your child’s behavior is not a reflection of you.  Your reaction to their behavior is a reflection of you.  Children can sense their parent’s emotions.  Your stress will feed theirs.  Your anxiety will exponentially increase theirs.

Children are still learning how to control their emotions, and these emotions generally lead to outwardly “bad” behavior.  You would do yourself and your child no favors by reacting negatively in the moment and feeding the cycle.

Prepare yourself to be calm, relaxed, and ready to take whatever the airport, airlines, and other passengers throw at you.  Be prepared to encounter other passengers who are obviously turned off by the presence of a toddler.  You cannot help their reaction, but you can be calm and effectively handle yourself and your child.  That’s enough for us to try to handle anyways.  Am I right, or am I right??

DON’T prepare other passengers.

I’ve seen a viral post going around about a mother who prepared little “gift” bags to hand out to other passengers when she was traveling with her baby.  It contained an apology note for any noise from her child, earplugs, and some other small things.

I like what another mom told me about this subject.  She said, “Why should we reward other people for not being jerks when our children act like CHILDREN??!” 

As mothers, we are obviously wishing for a peaceful flight for us and our child, and for other passengers as well.  But children (more specifically babies and toddlers) get scared–they don’t understand why their ears hurt, and they cry.  They are active beings that are suddenly confined and they are too young to understand.

We are responsible to manage our children well, but we are not responsible to apologize to others for the reactions of our children that are motivated by their fear and lack of understanding.

I found that MOST people were understanding and sympathetic towards my little boy when he cried during our flights.  If someone has an extreme reaction toward you, don’t be afraid to ask your flight attendant if there is another seat you and your child can be moved to.

Most of all, give yourself grace.

Give yourself room to mess up and try again if this is a new experience for you and your child.  Mommy guilt and dwelling on what cannot be changed will only add to our stress.  Relax, and move on.  Stick with what works, and discard what doesn’t.

Remember that you most likely will never see the other passengers again.  Don’t worry about what you look like–simply follow your mothering instinct and love your child through this new experience.

My adorable toddler turned into a monster while we were in line to board one of our flights.  He threw a terrible tantrum as a result of missing his bedtime (it was 10:30pm and he is usually asleep by 9pm), and screamed at the top of his lungs while throwing himself everywhere.

All I could do was remain as calm as possible and wrestle him and our things onto the plane.  My calmness finally paid off and he quieted down and slept once we got in our seat.

I had to give myself the grace-filled reminder that I did what I could and what was needed for my child at that moment.  Nevermind the fact that we must have looked and sounded awful to all the other passengers.

Finally, just be the mom your child needs.

Traveling is stressful by any means.  Flying is stressful due to the airports, sheer number of people, and the strangeness to your child who has never experienced any of that before.

Never underestimate the power of being there for your child.  Give them your love, presence, and reassurance every step of the way.  It helps more than you know.

So just remember, strange places and situations that your toddler has never experienced before will understandably scare them and might make them act out of character.  How you respond to them will help them process and get through the situation.

What has your experience been in traveling with a baby/toddler?  What worked, or didn’t work, for you?

2 thoughts on “Flying with a Toddler

  1. So true! You’re such a good mom and very inspiring. I’m glad you knew exactly how to handle yourself. I don’t think I would have had the presence of mind in knowing what to do like you did. Amazing!

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