Often when I talk to other parents about flying with small children I sense a lot of hesitancy, almost as if their travel days are over until the children are “big enough”. Traveling with small children and babies is definitely a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be dreadful. With a bit of planning ahead it can even be enjoyable!
As a very international family with relatives spread over 5 different countries, we’ve done our fair share of flying with our children, even from a young age. Here are some of my top tips for traveling with small children.
Tips for traveling by plane
- Jet lag may be inevitable if you are traveling long distances. However, there are few things you can do to make the adjustment easier on your children, and prevent over-tiredness.
If you can, book a night flight or travel during nap times to help your children sleep. This is when their drive to sleep is the highest and getting a good night’s sleep will prevent them from becoming overtired and having hysterical meltdowns. Try to plan ahead and book the bulkhead seats with a baby bassinet. Not only does this provide a place for baby to sleep, but provides extra legroom for a toddler to play on the ground, or for that bulging diaper bag you want to keep close on hand.
- Take advantage of priority boarding when necessary. I personally dislike the “families first” boarding policy when flying. It just means more time to have to occupy baby on the plane before take-off! However, if you have a car seat to install for a toddler, it might be a good idea to board early.
- Be prepared! Bring some snacks and drink for take-off and landing to help those little ears adjust to the pressure.
- Don’t worry about what others think. While on a plane, it can be hard not to worry about what the other passengers think if your baby is crying. However, the hum of the plane is usually quite loud (perfect white noise!) and people can’t hear your baby crying as much as you think they can :). (And you will never see those people again!)
- Flying is not the time to be too strict about sleep associations. Do whatever you need to do to help your child nap regularly – use the dummy, nurse to sleep, walk in the baby-carrier, etc. If your baby has special nighttime items (sleeping bag, lovey, dummy, sheets etc), make sure you bring those with you to make the traveling sleeping environment as similar to home as possible.
Be aware not to keep your child awake too long while traveling either! Keeping them awake longer in order to help them sleep better on the plane usually backfires.
- Take a few new toys to keep your child entertained while traveling. You can even make 4-5 “toy bags” to avoid bringing everything out all at once.
- Make sure that your child drinks and eats enough, especially when flying. The plane air is very dry and feeling hungry and dehydrated doesn’t aid sleep.
Most of these tips also apply to other forms of travel – whether by car, bus, or train.
Adjusting child’s sleep to the new environment
- Start adjusting immediately upon arrival.Upon arrival, try to get your child into their normal routine as fast as possible, while also keeping in mind not to let them get overtired. They may need a couple of extra short naps if they are very tired, but try not to let them sleep too long at the wrong times or it may prolong their jet-lag and waking in the night.For example, if you arrive at 5pm and your baby falls asleep, try not to let her sleep for too long – maximum 15-30 minutes. This takes the edge off, but ensures that she will still be tired enough to go to bed by 7-8pm.
- Keep to the same bedtime routine as at home, and try to avoid too much stimulation before bedtime. When your child wakes in the night, keep the lights dim and avoid too much activity. Allow them to be awake for a short time, feed if necessary, and put them back to bed.Your child may be awake in the dark for a couple of hours during the first couple of nights. However, as long as they get the message that this is nighttime, this is not a problem and to be somewhat expected. If you, however, get up with them in the middle of the night, turn on the lights, or play some games with them to pass the time, this will prolong their jet-lag. Bringing along your own travel blackout blinds and some white noise can encourage your child’s sleep while in a new environment.
- Stick to your daytime routine! Regardless of how long they have slept during the night, wake your child around 7am to entrain their biological clock. Keeping to regular feed and nap times and exposing your child to plenty of sunlight during the day will help their internal clock to regulate to the new time.Adjusting to the new time zone can take anywhere from 2-5 days, depending on the distance travelled. However, I’ve often found that my children adjust to the new time zone and routine faster than I do!
Dealing with change while traveling with small children
I’ve sometimes found that my children’s behavior is worse in the new situations than at home. Children are very sensitive to change, some more than others, and if they feel overwhelmed by meeting lots of new people or seeing new things, this can often show in the way they act out.
Scheduling a good balance of outings and down time, and keeping regular feeding and nap times can help prevent those meltdowns. Seeing too many new things or being picked up too much by unfamiliar people may also overwhelm and over-stimulate your child leading to sleep disturbances and over-tiredness.
No one knows your child like you do, and being aware of their limits and setting appropriate boundaries for them may make traveling together more enjoyable for everyone.
I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful!! If you have any other particular questions on travel and jet-lag please don’t hesitate to contact me for a Free Initial Consult!