Airplane travel to a new destination is a unique adventure for children, but it can be daunting for parents. What if your worst nightmare comes true and you are that parent whose kid is having a huge tantrum on the plane? There are some strategies you can employ for preventing tantrums on planes, says Dr Marcie Beigel, a behavioural therapist and author of Behavior and Beyond. She tells suitcases&strollers her travel tips for a positive experience flying with kids.

Plan for the trip.

Planning has two elements. First pack great things for the airplane. Make sure you have favourite toys and games. Bring good books. Flying with kids is a great time to use technology to entertain your small being.

[For more tips on travel-friendly toys, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] 

The second element of planning is about talking to your child about the travel plans. Tell them what to expect at the airport and on the airplane. Discuss waiting, how plans change unexpectedly during travel and how you as a family will handle the unexpected changes. Talk about expected behaviour and how the rules on airplanes may be different than at home or school. Use language that is age appropriate for your child. This conversation should be concise and clear and phrased in the positive. Don’t let your concerns about bad behaviour be part of the conversation; if only positive behaviour is highlighted it is more likely that positive behaviour will be experienced.

Know that the time on the airplane is not going to be relaxing for you.

As a big being (a.k.a. – adult) time on the plane with your kids is when you need to be entertaining. Think ahead and be ready with the next book, game or video. This is one situation where technology can be really helpful to keep small bodies calm for long periods of time. Before you get on the airplane, decide how much time or how many videos will be watched and let your small being know, so the expectations are clear. Know the remainder of the time you need to engage your child.

Accept that tantrums on planes happen and be ready for one.

When your child has a tantrum on the plane, stay calm. Keeping your emotions steady is the best tool you have during a tantrum. The appearance of being calm is just as powerful for your small being and strangers around you as actually being calm. Most kids show signs that a tantrum is going to come, so you have a moment or two to compose yourself. Model the behaviour you want: remaining calm and composed even when frustrated and upset is a wonderful thing to model for your small being.

[For an amusing story on the 5 Steps of Frustration when flying with kids written by a suitcases&strollers father, click here.] 

Remember that giving in may be the best option.

Airplanes are not the place for teaching listening skills. You know your child’s behaviour best. If you can sense they are going to start a tantrum on the plane over something you can control, give in right away. Better to change the rules within the first minute of behaviour and avoid a tantrum on a plane than stand your ground to give in 15 minutes later. If it is something you do not have control over, it may be a great time to distract them with a video or favourite toy. You do not want long periods of undesired behaviour that result in you ultimately giving your small being what they originally asked for. Again, this may be a very different choice than you would make if at home and congratulate yourself making a smart choice given the situation. Work on listening skills when you get home from the family vacation.

Take the extra time to prepare your small being for the adventure of being on an airplane. It will be time well spent. You will be setting them up for success. Simultaneously, you will be setting yourself up for success by being ready for any behavior that comes your way.

For more travel tips on flying with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here

By Dr Marcie Beigel of Behavior and Beyond; Image shot at Junibacken