Children generally don’t like to be told to sit still and quietly for hours at a time, but that is exactly what long plane rides require.
As a result, parents need proven strategies to avoid the risk of a midflight meltdown, by their children or themselves.
Here are several tips from experienced travelers and parenting experts to help ensure a smooth flight.
If you're flying with an infant or a very young child, you may want to consider these tips instead.
Pack an activity bag
Kate Rope — author of “Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane From Pregnancy to Parenthood” and mother of two daughters, ages 6 and 10 — says she always packs a bag full of new games and toys before each trip.
“They include sticker books, coloring books, magnetic tic-tac-toe, card games, paper and markers,” she says, adding that the bags come out only for trips to keep her daughters excited about them. “I try to replenish the bag before each trip so there are always new and novel things,” she adds.
Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of the forthcoming book “The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever — and What to Do About It,” suggests packing games that easily lend themselves to a group activity if you have more than one child. Card games like Uno, Monopoly Deal or Go Fish can work well, she adds.
Ricky Shetty, who writes about family travel on his website, DaddyBlogger.com, and frequently travels with his three children, suggests bringing different types of games so you can quickly change things up when boredom strikes. For example, you might go from coloring books to shared games to puzzles. “The change of pace will shift their focus and get them interested and involved,” he says.
Always include snacks
Rope brings along a mix of healthy options as well as special treats to keep hunger at bay.
“The kids know that we will break out the sweet treats later in the trip and they should start with the nuts, veggies and fruit,” she says.
Shetty adds that bringing along some treats like gummies can also serve as a useful reward for good behavior.
Stock up on drinks before boarding
Many liquids aren't allowed through security. To prevent thirst from turning into crankiness, Farnoosh Torabi, a personal finance expert and mom of two, recommends buying water and milk during the wait to board.
“It can be a while before getting any food or drink service on board the plane,” she says.
Ease up on screen-time restrictions
"Many of my parenting rules go out the window,” says Torabi, including restrictions on screen time, in an effort to get through the plane ride.
“If my 3-year-old wants more screen time because that’s the only way he’ll sit in his chair, so be it!” she says.
Rope also downloads audiobooks as well as games for the family’s iPad before long trips. She adds that planes’ entertainment systems often include kids channels, which allow parents to get some rest. Parents might also want to pack headphones to fit kids’ heads.
Pack first-aid supplies
Shortly before landing after a six-hour cross-country trip, Torabi gave her son an empty aluminum can to hold. He cut his finger and it started bleeding just as they were strapped into their seats for the final approach.
“We rinsed his finger with our extra bottle of water and applied some serious pressure with a blanket we’d brought on the plane,” she says. A flight attendant brought antibacterial cream and Band-Aids, and he was soon feeling better.
Let them cry (a little)
If your child is upset about something on the plane — perhaps he’s hungry or just overwhelmed with the noise and new experience — there is nothing wrong with letting him express those feelings, says Kate Orson, author of “Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children.”
In fact, she adds, trying to quickly shut down a child's tears with a snack or TV show can prevent them from getting their feelings out. And unless they are kicking another passenger’s seat or really screaming, it may be bothering you more than it is anyone else on board.
Orson suggests listening carefully to why your child is upset and empathizing as much as possible. “Once a child gets their feelings out through crying, they are less likely to be upset for the whole trip,” she says. “Often a short five-minute cry can prevent a lot of frustrated emotions later.”
Decompress after arrival
Traveling with kids tends to be stressful even when you’re prepared. Lewis suggests planning for some quiet time after you arrive, perhaps with the help of a grandparent or babysitter.
“Don’t jump right into an activity,” she says. After all, you might need to recover from the stress of the journey along with your child.