Author’s Note: I recently returned from a mainland trip and had the misfortune to be seated on the plane directly across the aisle from a 3- or 4-year-old boy and his father. This column was inspired by that agonizing flight …
Travel can be a great experience for young children and the summer holidays afford many families a chance to vacation near visiting relatives. However, to ensure a pleasant trip for your child, for you as a parent, and the other people you may encounter along the way, a little planning and awareness can help.
Set up expectations
Children do better when they know what to expect. Explain to your child what will happen while she’s on the plane, the train, or whatever mode of transportation you might use that’s different from what the child is used to. Also, spend some time explaining how you expect your child to behave. Since young children want to please their parents, it is good to establish behavioral expectations both for you and for others around you. Be sure to tell your child how you want him to act, not how you don’t want him to act. For instance on a plane, a parent should tell a child he’ll be expected to sit in a seat, keep his seat belt fastened, and that there will be a meal and/or movie. He will then know what to expect and can look forward to these events. Remind him that he will be expected to use his “inside voice” while on the plane as he will not want to bother the people seated around him.
Be sure to plan things for your child to do while he is on the plane. Even if it’s just a short flight, a bored child can become disruptive and uncomfortable. One mother this author knows packs a new coloring book and crayons. Her daughter, she explains, is excited about new possessions and eager to try them out. Another idea is to pack a new book that you can read to your child during the flight, or a favorite toy that your child can manipulate. While a stuffed cuddly toy is a good idea for the sake of feeling secure, something the child can interact with is better to pass the time. One child the author knows was given a book with pictures of the license plates from different states. While her family traveled from state to state by car, she was kept entertained trying to spot as many different license plates as she could.
Snacks are also good for keeping children busy. Pack some of your child’s favorites. Not only does this pass the time, but it also provides a familiar comfort to a child who may be apprehensive about the trip.
Parents should pay attention to the people around them. Is your child bothering the person seated in front of him by kicking the seat? Little children usually have their legs straight out in front of them, so a little wiggling will make contact with the seat back. Is your child entertained by lowering the tray table and then putting it back up and locking it in place? That can also be annoying to the person in the seat ahead.
The child this author encountered on the plane was a “singer.” He started singing a song (which normally would be encouraged in an appropriate setting), but his voice kept getting louder and louder. His mother, who was sitting behind him, asked him to lower his voice; but his father, who he was sitting next to, encouraged him to sing even louder. Almost the entire plane could hear him singing. Rather than ask the child to lower his voice, his father kept reminding him of verse after verse so he could keep it up. The boy kept looking at his Dad for continued approval. And, to help him keep the beat, the boy kicked the seat in front of him. Thank goodness the snack service arrived, so the boy and his father were distracted.
Traveling can be hard enough for adults, harder for children and harder still for adults with children. Since we all end up sharing common situations, it just follows that a little more planning, attention to your children and respect for others will make it easier and more pleasant for everyone. Being a good parent means being the “parent.” And, having traveled with many children, this author can attest to how fun and rewarding a well-planned trip can be.
Angela Thomas is the program leader of Baby Steps to Stronger Big Island Families. Their group activities and newsletter can be found at www.BabyStepsHawaii.org. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.