Experiencing a child having a meltdown is like being on a different planet. The very first one you experience is like a shock wave, your mind is frazzled and you’re figuring out what the heck is going on and how do I fix the situation. There are ways to avoid having a meltdown on a plane.
If you have young children, chances are you experience multiple a week, maybe even a day. Navigating through a meltdown is like driving in your car with no destination in sight, you’re not sure when you’re going to stop.
For the record, I consider a meltdown when our child starts crying over something they want or want to do.
We rarely go out to dinner with our kids because of the amount of work it takes and you never know who might have a meltdown, it’s too unpredictable. And we’d like to enjoy dinner without being judged.
The times we have gone to dinner, we literally order the kids meals when the server comes to the table for the first time. We don’t waste any time and are usually in and out of there in thirty minutes.
It’s easier to pick-up take out and eat at home in peace. Going to the grocery store by yourself is glorious because it gets down faster and you actually stick to your list.
If you don’t live by family, you have to travel by car or plane to see them. In our case, we fly. Our family lives pretty far away and driving there for the weekend isn’t possible. So plane it is.
I flew by myself with our daughter because I was on maternity leave and my husband was working.
It felt like I was studying for an exam with the amount of work and preparation that went into it. Trying to figure out what to bring on the plane, what needs to be packed, what gear is needed, how in the world will I be able to carry everything, I only have two hands!
The biggest worry I had at the time was her crying, I did not want to be the person on the plane with a crying baby. No mom wants to be that person, ever.
Now that we have flown with our kids quite a few times, looking back on it traveling with a baby is so much easier. They usually eat or sleep, relatively easy. It’s when they become toddlers it starts to change.
I’ll never forget the first toddler meltdown on the plane, I cried. We had flown from California to New York for my mother-in-law’s funeral. The flight there was good because it was a red-eye and she slept, the way home was a completely different story. We boarded the plane and ended up sitting at the gate for 45 minutes because of a maintenance issue, it was complete torture.
Our daughter was crying and just losing it. We were trying to do everything we could and nothing was working. She finally fell asleep and I just cried. It was hard and exhausting.
That was just with one kid. As hard as it was with one kid, it just gets harder with more. Not going to sugar coat this.
There are a few things to consider when flying with kids:
- Is driving an option? While we are talking about flying with kids, always consider driving first. Having kids in the car is a lot easier than getting on a plane with them. They can at least have a meltdown without other people having to experience it.
- Time of flight. Booking a flight around your child’s naptime or bedtime will be your best friend. Having done both, booking around bedtime has been more successful than naptime. Naptimes can be hit or miss. Our experience has been more freakouts during naptime than bedtime. While we’ve haven’t been meltdown free during flights around their bedtime, there’s end in sight because you know at some point they have to fall asleep.
- Non-stop flight. Before having kids, I was the cheapest flight girl. I didn’t care if there was a layover, it gave me a chance to check out another airport if I hadn’t been there. After having kids, our mentality has been “how fast can we get there.” There is so much stuff that you carry around and getting on and off a plane can be challenging especially with a baby, planes aren’t that big.
Once you have your trip booked and it gets closer to your trip, you’ll then want to start the planning and packing process. I always start mine a week before our trip. This allows me to gather all the necessary stuff, wash what needs to be washed, look for what we need or buy what we don’t have.
There’s nothing worse than needing something on a plane and you forgot it because you were rushed into packing.
When you start packing, dedicate a space to packing where the kids don’t have access to it. Lay it out in front of you. It’s much easier to pack when you have a visual representation of what you are packing. It’s easier to see what else you need or eliminate what you don’t need.
Once you start packing, lay items out by categories, it’s easier to keep everything organized.
Here are the categories we use when packing:
- Diapers & Wipes
- Plane Activities
Plane activities are what will be your lifeline when flying, they will help you avoid a meltdown.
Here is a list of activities we’ve used that have worked out for us:
Coloring books. Many kids like to color or make a picture. If you have more than one child flying with you, make sure they each have their own coloring books. While it’s easier to just have one and tear out a page, having two books makes a big difference. Trust me.
Reading books. Having your child’s favorite books with you can help in the midst of a meltdown. It’s a great distraction and it’s something they love which can help calm them down.
Removable stickers. These are fun because you don’t have to worry about regular stickers sticking to the cabin bin or seat.
Electronics. This will depend on your child and you. Some parents aren’t keen on their kids watching TV. Early on, our oldest daughter loved watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (around age 2) but when we got on the plane, she wanted nothing to do with it.
We typically download a few shoes and movies. Some of their favorites and some they’ve never seen, a good mix of both. Having a show/movie to watch has been the most successful.
With electronics, make sure to bring headphones. We’ve forgotten ours before and while it’s not the end of the world, it’s hard for them to hear the show. While the entire plane typically can’t hear it, you feel like you are blasting it out to everyone.
Games. Playing games is another distraction that can help avoid a meltdown. You have to be selective with what type of game(s) you bring because you only have so much room in your carry-on and on the plane. A great free game you can play is “I spy with my little eye”, works almost every time.
Toys. There usually isn’t much room for a whole lot of toys. Here are a few types of toys we’ve packed in the past:
- Action Figures: Batman, Superman
- Magnetic Shapes
It’s best to try and pack their favorite toys for obvious reasons. We also try to make a quick run to the dollar store to get a few new small toys to get them excited.
Puzzles. The puzzles need to be small because there isn’t a whole lot of room on the tray. Also, puzzles with large pieces work best, it’s easier to lose smaller pieces.
Besides activities, you’ll want to make sure you have snacks. If you don’t get a chance to get many activities, make sure you have plenty of snacks.
Having your child’s favorite snacks can help avoid a meltdown and stop one. It’s amazing what can happen when you show your child their favorite food. I mean, I can’t blame them, I feel the same way when I see Twizzlers. Plus no one likes to be hangry. Here are some snacks that we typically bring with us:
- Fruit snacks
- Cereal bars (we try to bring Kids Clif bars because regulars get smooshed and a break cereal bar is something you don’t want to deal with on the plane)
- Apple slices
- Yogurt Melts
- Fruit/Veggie Pouches (greatest invention ever!)
- Candy (We keep this on us and only use it for an absolute emergency)
Our kids are at an age where we pack their lunchboxes with their snacks for the plane. They keep their lunchbox in their backpacks, it makes them feel like an adult. In past, I would keep the snacks with me in a separate bag and they would be kept in large ziplock bags to help keep them organized.
I’d have a handful of fruit snacks in one bag, apple slices in another and so forth. Keep an empty plastic bag with you or bring an extra ziplock bag for garbage. Yes, there is a stewardess that come around but you are always rushing to grab all the garbage. If you have your own bag, it’s less hectic.
Make sure to have their favorite sippy cup or water bottle as well.
The last thing we have with us when flying and only use it for red-eye flights is kids melatonin. Our experience with meltdowns and usually others is a tired child. The kids’ melatonin (which is a natural remedy) calms them down and helps them fall to sleep.
Having your child use their own backpack is really helpful too. They feel like a big kid and have something that’s their own. Plus it frees up space in your own bag so you have more room.
Depending on the age of your child, letting them know they are flying on a plane is a really big deal. We usually only wait a few days before the trip to tell them. We’ve made the mistake of telling them a week before we left and it’s like an eternity in their world.
Being able to prep them for the type of behavior on the plane helps.
The flight attendants can also be your best friend. They are kind of like teachers, calm and have a warm heart (most of them). Having another person come over and help during a meltdown can help with the re-direction.
I’ll admit when this has happened, I’m like “great, our kid is loud.” It’s definitely not the best feeling in the world but you get to the point where you are willing to take help from anyone.
If you haven’t flown yet with your kids, don’t let this post freak you out.
It does take work to fly with kids, planning is the key to success.
There are definitely going to be times when nothing seems to be working but as long as you are trying your best, people don’t mind, especially the ones that have had kids.
One of the best feelings in the world is when a passenger commends you on how well behaved your kids were, even when you didn’t think they were that great.
I’ve created a checklist to help remember everything because there is so much. Plus, it’s really frustrating to forget something and end up having to buy it. Buying something at the airport is a rip-off. Your trip starts off sideways.
You can download your free checklist Download.
To recap, having things to do on the plane is what will help you avoid a meltdown and passenger stares too 🙂 Having a lot of your child’s favorite things will help make the trip smoother. As long as you have a variety of snacks, games, and shows to watch, you will be on your way to a successful trip.
What travel tips have worked for you when flying with kids?