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Traveling with young children can be a nightmare. One family experienced it for real last week when their son’s mid-flight meltdown prompted flight attendants to call the cops! Leo Khalfin told St. Louis’ KSDK that his 2-year-old was crying in his lap when an attendant instructed him to put the boy into his own seat for the takeoff of their Frontier Airlines flight from the Dominican Republic to St. Louis. (Airlines require children age 2 and older sit in their own seat and the Federal Aviation Administration recommends child restraint systems based on weight).
“I buckled him in and he was of course screaming and yelling,” said the Chesterfield, Missouri father. “And I held him with force.” Unfortunately little Sam continued to wail. Khalfin says the attendant then told him and his wife, Regina: “Your son is too loud…If you’re not going to keep him calm in the next three minutes, you guys are going to have to leave the plane.’” The parents were able to calm Sam – until turbulence at one point during the four-hour journey freaked him out and he resumed wailing.
Tension between the family and cabin crew grew so intense, a spokesperson for Frontier told KSDK flight staff requested police saying the Khalfins had been abusive toward them. When the plane landed in St. Louis, Khalfin said he, Regina and toddler Sam were ushered off and met by police “like criminals.”
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Even in less dramatic situations, kids on planes can still cause upset. A 2013 Expedia survey found that 63 percent of those polled admitted they’re often annoyed by parents traveling with loud children – and 49 percent of those would even pay extra to be seated in an area that is child-free. And a Facebook group called “Airlines Should Have Kid Free Flights!” counts 953 members to date.
But until more airlines enlist “flying nannies,” like Etihad Airway’s crew trained by Norland College consultants to aid families on long-haul flights, it’s all on mom and dad to make the best of it. These tips can help.
1. Prep Toddlers For What’s to Come.
“When children can get a visual for what they’re about to do, it doesn’t feel as scary and unfamiliar to them,” Rachel Cedar, founder of NYC parenting support service You Plus 2 Parenting & Beyond the Basics of Toddler Development, tells Yahoo Parenting. More confidence means fewer freak outs. Prime kids for what will happen with books such as Usborne Children’s Book “Going on a Plane,” and videos of plane travel on YouTube. “With videos you can show your child what it looks like sitting on a plane and point out the behavior you like. ‘See he sits down and uses his seatbelt,’” says Cedar. “It’s good practice.”
2. Time Travel By Sleep Schedule.
If your child will nap en route, try to fly during that window, and embrace the overnight flight. “Bring pajamas and make a deal about going through your ‘bedtime’ routine as best you can on the plane: change into pjs, brush teeth, read stories and then shut off your light,” suggests Cedar.
Think carefully about using snooze-inducing medicine like Benadryl though. “There may be some utility in giving children over the age of two an antihistamine to help them fall asleep if you’re on a long trip flying through several time zones,” Austin, Texas pediatrician Dr. Ari Brown, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But don’t give any to babies under six months because it’ll actually make them wired.” Also, be sure to do a test run at home first to see how the big kids react to it.
3. Pack Surprise Treats.
“Wrap up small gifts and slip them to the flight attendant or passengers near you,” advises Cedar. “Ask him or her to show up and give your child one every now and then as a treat for good behavior, such as sitting still in the seat.” Some of her favorites: magnetic activity books, post it notes and gadgets the kids aren’t familiar with that will keep them distracted, such as an old calculator. “Children love praise and want to do the right thing,” she says. “Just be specific about what you want kids to do. Tell them, ‘Show me how you can keep your belt buckled.’”
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4. Stock up on Snacks Too.
Nothing can make a kid crankier than a rumbling stomach. Fend off hunger by bring along a bunch of munchies. The novelty of something new gives you the bonus of distraction so offer a different version of something you already know they like. “Cheerio fan? Try the multi-colored ones for a fun change up! Goldfish is a favorite? Give the rainbow or pretzel variety a try,” suggests Cedar. Just avoid sugary snacks which may give kids an unwanted burst of energy. Drinks are important too adds Dr. Brown, author of “Toddler 411.” “Most kids don’t understand how to pop their ears to equalize painful pressure in the ears during takeoff and landing, so drinking form a water bottle is an effective way to do that.”
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5. Keep Your Cool.
Parents of young children need to remember that the days of reading magazines and watching movies are gone, says Cedar. “You have to be ready to give children a lot of attention during flights.” Tantrums can come from the child feeling powerless, strapped in their seat without any choices, she notes. “So give them lots of options about what to play with and engage them as much as you can. The more entertained they are, the better behavior you’ll get.”