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Yay! It’s time to visit friends and relatives for the holidays!

The thing is, though, that you’ve got young children, and a plane flight looms on the horizon. The only thing worse than sitting in front of a fussy child on a plane is the parent who is trying so hard not to have THAT child! No matter how well behaved your child might be in other situations, all bets are off when it comes to air travel.

While we all dread having THAT child, it’s worth remembering that most of your fellow passengers have probably had the same experience at some time in their life with their own children. Young children are excited and cranky and too tired to sleep. While there’s no sure-fire fix to eliminate the stress of plane travel with young children, there are some ways to make it easier.
Before we talk about fun, let’s remember some basic ‘housekeeping’ issues.

Bathroom/Diapers: Use the restroom facilities in the airport before boarding the plane. Even when your newly diaper-free child says a bathroom break is not necessary, now is the time to learn one of the basic life lessons: Never turn down a free lunch or a chance to go to the bathroom! If you have ever tried to change a messy diaper in an airplane bathroom or had to stand in line with a crying toddler grabbing his pants as you wait for someone to exit the lavatory, you know the importance of this step.

Wipes: Bring wipes of all kinds: diaper wipes, face wipes, hand wipes, disinfectant wipes (for the plane tray and basically everything your child is going to touch… or has touched), and glass wipes if you wear glasses, because they will probably get smeared with something.

Popping Ears: All children (and adults) feel pressure in their ears as the plane gains altitude. For children, it is more painful. If you’re traveling with a baby, now is the time for breast, bottle, or ‘binkie.’ Many adults chew gum for the same reason. For toddlers, this might be the time to treat them to a lollipop (sugar free preferably). Swallowing is the key!

Now that you’ve attained lift-off, here are some other suggestions that won’t break the bank or waste valuable carry-on space, plus you will find them useful for occupying children in restaurants while on vacation and when you return home.

PAPER & CRAYONS

Cut some small pieces of colorful paper and allow the children to make their own little book. Crayons are better than markers. You don’t need all 500 colors; a small pack of basics will do! Let children create a story about their trip or anything else that interests them. If they want to dictate a story to go along with pictures, be a scribe. If you are really organized, make all the pages of equal size, punch two holes along the sides of the paper and bring a strand of yarn to bind the ‘book’ when it is finished. Let your child ‘read’ the book to grandparents or friends upon arrival.

PLAY DOUGH™

Maybe you have never allowed your children to play with this stuff at home. If so, this will be an absolute revelation! (Silly Putty™ is another choice). There are plenty of great recipes online if you want to make your own, or just buy some small containers of Play Doh™. Small containers are really inexpensive (about $1 each). Allow your child to remove the dough, smell it, feel the texture, and dig in. You can show your child how to make snakes and bowls and all the dough art you made when you were a child. Just don’t let them eat it. It does smell delicious! When you are done, be sure to wipe down the tray for the next passenger.

BLOCKS

A small Lego™ set can occupy a young builder for … minutes? It’s also a good opportunity to teach or engage children in identifying the block colors. Tegu™ blocks are another fun possibility. Tegu’s Pocket Pouch includes 8 magnetic wooden blocks and is packaged in a felt pouch. Tegu has reinvented the wooden block, and, by safely embedding magnets into each piece, these blocks are “curiously
attractive” for both kids and adults. The pouch sells for about $25.

ETCH A SKETCH™

This old favorite is making a comeback in a small, portable model. The Pocket Etch a Sketch™ should not cost more than $10 and is pretty entertaining for busy hands.

STOCKING STUFFERS/ GRAB BAG

Little presents that can be doled out on an hourly basis give bored children something to look forward to and represent passage of time if done on an hourly basis. Wrap each ‘present’ to prolong the experience. Little inexpensive items are all you need.

STICKY NOTES

Buy a multi-colored pack of Post-It Notes™ and let your child decorate his tray, seat, window. Be sure to retrieve them upon landing so that they can be used later.