Helping your kids learn to love travel: take the stress out of flying

Uncharted Traveling

Traveling with your kids can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever bless them with. It can teach them about history, open their minds and palates to new foods, and give them cultural experiences they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. However, travel can also take a toll mentally and physically on their little bodies if they are not prepared. Do your kids, and yourself, a favor, and take the time to teach your kids to travel before embarking on a flight across the country, or around the world!

A short plane ride may seem simple to us as adults if we have done it many times before and know what to expect. And let's be honest, there are some adults who could use some lessons in this area as well! If you think of it through the eyes of a child, a first-time plane ride is a completely foreign experience and can be quite scary to them if they're not prepared. You can ease a lot of the fear and stress by taking a few simple preemptive steps, and before you know it your kids will be travel pros!

Start small

Whether your kids are babies, toddlers, adolescents, or teenagers, make their first flight a short one. This will help them get a feel for what flying is like and will alert you to any potential problems, such as sinus issues, airsickness, or even cranky traveler syndrome (some people just don't do well in tight spaces like airplanes). Also, if things go badly, at least you'll be at your destination quickly and can make some adjustments for your next trip!

Pack snacks

Many airlines no longer offer in-flight snacks, and when they do, you can't guarantee that it will be something your child likes. Especially for kids who are picky eaters, pack a few of their favorite snacks for your flight. It will give them a taste of home, and reduce the chances of any whining or complaining. Better yet, get out a selection of plane-appropriate snacks and let your child choose a few to take along. Just remember that TSA limits liquids to 3.75 ounces or less, so you'll either need to take small drinks or buy them after you go through security. If your child has trouble drinking out of plastic bottles or aluminum cans, you may want to pack a sippy cup that you can pour liquids into as well.

Take entertainment

As adults, we take items to entertain ourselves when we fly, so why not allow your kids to do the same? There are three things to consider when choosing the right entertainment for your child on a flight. The first is space. Make sure whatever they choose will fit in your bag, or their bag if they are big enough to carry one. Secondly, if you take electronics, make sure they are charged in advance and that you have the cords to charge them for the return flight. Concerning electronics, if your child will be using something that makes noise, please buy them headphones and have them practice wearing them before the flight. The last piece of advice I will offer in this area is to give your child choices! This doesn't mean to let them take whatever they want, but allow them to have a say in what they take so they are happy with their choices and feel that they have some control. A lot of their control will be taken away as you embark on your journey, and allowing them to control even small things will go a long way.

Allow them to help plan the trip

Speaking of giving choices, a great way to help your kids become invested in your trip is by letting them help plan it. Depending on their age, there is a wide range of ways in which you can do this, but I guarantee it will increase their excitement levels by leaps and bounds! For younger kids, you can offer them some "this or that" activity choices. As they get older, you can even let them help with the pre-trip online research to find fun things to do when you get to your destination. They may even be more adept at googling destinations than you are!

Consider the time of your flight

When booking your flight, consider your child's age, daily routine, and sleep schedule. Will the flight be at a time that is usually during a meal, nap, or at bedtime? Not to say that flights can't be booked at these times; however, you may need to make adjustments to your child's schedule that day in order to avoid a very hungry, cranky, or overly tired little one during your flight. Does your child have a favorite nap or bedtime toy or blanket? Taking it with you can give just enough comfort to help your child relax or fall asleep a little easier.

Give them a mental image

This may sound funny, but giving your child a mental image of what the airport and flight will be like may ease some of their anxiety and help them feel more comfortable during the trip. Find a children's book about what it's like to go to an airport or fly on a plane, and read it several times during the weeks and days leading up to your trip. Talk to them about what it will be like going through security, and what the airplane seats are like, where the bags will be, and what the bathroom will be like. Make sure you ask your child if they have any questions about what it will be like at the airport or on the plane, so you can help take away any fears they may have.

Teach them the do's and don'ts of flying etiquette

As I said before, there are some adults who could use a refresher in this area, and we know better. Kids don't automatically know the airport and plane rules without you telling them, so make things easier on all of you and talk about it ahead of time. Specifically, you should discuss ways to not disturb other passengers, such as talking quietly on the plane and using headphones for electronics. You should also point out the tight quarters on a plane, and how to respect the space of your airplane neighbors, such as not kicking or pushing on the seat in front of you, and not bouncing or "rocking" your own seat in case the person behind you has food or work on their tray. Please don't let your kid be the one who repeatedly kicks or bangs the seat in front of them!

Be prepared and organized

As parents, when we are stressed it causes our kids to be stressed. Help your kids not be stressed by making sure you are personally prepared for the trip. Make sure everyone is packed several days in advance, as well as having all of your documents and boarding passes ready. In addition, make sure you are familiar with the airport and airline rules regarding TSA regulations and baggage size and weight. This also includes being on time for your flight, so you don't have the extra stress of being rushed or having to sprint through the airport with your kids in tow.

Let them help pack

When my kids were little, the fun of the trip always started about a week in advance, when we would sit down and make a packing list together. As with other items, let the packing responsibility increase with age. Little ones can sit with you while you pack for them, as you give certain choices. As they get older, you can give them a list and let them pack according to it, with supervision, or what I like to call compliance checks. Then one day your kids will be teenagers and will be able to pack completely on their own! Or they will text you from college with a picture of the packing list they made for Spring Break to have you check it for them. What a heart-warming experience that will be!

Allow them to do things for themselves

As I mentioned earlier, allowing your kids to have choices with their snacks, entertainment, and packing gives them a feeling of control that will help them have a better experience. You can also allow your kids to do other small things for themselves, such as carry and scan their boarding passes, have their own carry-on bag appropriate for their size, choose whether they want a window or aisle seat, and buckle themselves in once on the plane. Research has shown that increasing children's sense of control reduces stress and anxiety, and helps them be more successful in life. This can relate to traveling as well. With increased levels of control, your kids will enjoy the experience more and will want to have many more travel adventures in the future!

Follow me to see more articles like this. I am a travel blogger and retired teacher with 20 years of experience in education. I am also a mom of two adult daughters who are avid travelers, both of whom have lived abroad. The world is a big place, help your kids discover it!

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Local city guide for Memphis Tennessee, reporting on current events, entertainment, and all the best places to eat and drink. And a few cocktail recipes here and there!

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