What you need to know about flying with small children

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By DR. KAREN LATIMER

It's spring break time! The airports will be crawling with little kids, escorted by frazzled parents looking forward to some family time away from the pressures of home. Vacations are wonderful, but traveling with small children can be stressful. Even under the best circumstances, flying with babies and toddlers is difficult. When things go wrong, it can be torture.

A few years ago, we took a family vacation to Turks and Caicos. My twins were about 15 months old. The girls were five, seven and nine years old. The flight home was meant to take about three and a half hours. We ended up on the plane for 12. I was ill prepared, as were the flight attendants. You want to see angry people? Lock them on a plane for a day with very few provisions, lots of kids and not a lot of information. I learned my lesson. Now, when I travel, I am as prepared as an eagle scout.

Below are a few items that will help ensure a smooth trip.

For germ control
  • "Boogie Wipes": I love these little wet tissues. The name is kind of gross, but they are great for plane travel because the recycled air is extremely drying, and wiping little noses frequently with dry tissues will cause irritation.
  • Hand sanitizer: Use before, during and after the flight to ensure a healthy trip.
  • Disinfectant wipes: Planes are turned around very quickly at the gate, and you have no idea who was in your seats before you. Your kids will be squirming and rubbing their little hands and faces all over their seat for hours. Take a few moments to de-germ.
  • Moisturizer: Intact, well-hydrated skin is a much better barrier to infection than dry, cracked skin. Moisturize after every hand washing.
In case of an emergency
  • Children's Benadryl: An allergic reaction at 35,000 feet can be really scary if you aren't prepared.
  • Tylenol: If you have a child who has a hard time taking medicine, consider bringing a suppository. If your child can handle the chewable pills, all the better. You won't have to worry about getting through security with liquid and you'll avoid the mess.
  • Plastic bags and extra wipes: You never know what you might have to clean up.
  • A change of clothes, for you and your kids. Children are messy, even when they aren't cooped up. Spills and accidents are bound to happen.
For fun
  • Play-Doh: One jar of modeling clay in your child's favorite color can provide hours of fun.
  • Picture books: Bring one of their favorites and one they've never seen. Keep your carry on light and make sure they are paperbacks.
  • Crayons and blank paper: Coloring in the lines can be frustrating in turbulence. Stick to free draw to avoid whining and crying.
  • Toddler sized headphones: I have made the mistake of bringing only ear buds and then spent hours holding them in little ears. Bring smaller headphones you've tried at home and know will fit. None of the DVDs you bring or movies on the plane will help you if the kids can't hear them.
  • Finally, don't count on the TVs on the plane to work. More often than not, the screens are glitchy or worse, don't work at all.
For comfort
  • Soft blanket: Most airlines don't offer blankets and pillows. Remember a sleeping child makes everyone happy.
  • Their "thing": Whether it's a blanket or a special toy, remember to pack it in the carry on and not in your checked baggage.
  • Mind your clothing: If your child is small enough to still sleep on your shoulder, wear something he will want to rest his head on.
To eat
  • New snacks: Leave time for a quick stop at a shop near the gate. Look for snacks you know your child will like, but hasn't tried before. The novelty adds to the distraction.
  • Something to suck on: Repetitive swallowing during takeoff and landing will help to prevent ear pain.
  • Two sippy cups or bottles: One is bound to roll under the seats when the seat belt sign is on.
What to avoid bringing with you
  • Toys that make a lot of noise.
  • Small things that can get lost between the seats and create drama.
  • Foods that present choking hazards.
A few tips
  • Don't show them all your cards at once. Space out your tricks, and you won't run out of options before the plane lands.
  • Make your children self-sufficient travelers as early as possible. The sooner they learn to hold their own carry on and pack their own entertainment, the happier your vacations will be.
  • Be patient and manage your expectations. Air travel can be scary and frustrating for the calmest of adults. Think how difficult it can be for children who aren't used to being in confined spaces with hundreds of people, their freedom restricted and very likely, their parents bristling with anxiety. Keep your eye on the prize. The plane will land eventually no matter how many dirty looks you get from fellow passengers.
Remember, regardless of how difficult the journey, a family vacation is a wonderful gift for everyone.

Don't take my word for it? Hear a kid's perspective on managing the stress of flying:

Kid-Friendly Flying Tips From A Kid
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