Jun 8, 2010 by Martha Burns, Ph.D
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travel with toddlerToday in an airport lobby while watching many frustrated parents try to deal with fussy youngsters, a grandmother shared with me that when her youngest was 18 months old she took her on an airplane and her child acted "so terribly" that she refused to travel with her again until she was 18.

Nothing is more stressful for you or your toddler than a long car or plane ride. No matter how hard you try, a trip is a major break in your child’s normal routine. Meals, naps and regular bed times are very difficult to maintain on long trips. Once a toddler is out of his routine, he will be likely to become very cranky. And, since your toddler cannot move around and explore, which is what her developing body and mind long for, she will become very frustrated without any understanding of why.

As your toddler starts to cry and refuse to be comforted, you may feel embarrassed that you cannot control his behavior. That in turn may increase both your frustration and that of your child, and before you know it, the situation can be very difficult to reverse.

To avoid a cascading cycle of frustration and irritability, try switching gears. Start the trip with a well rested child, if at all possible. Bring a familiar blanket, doll or stuffed animal that your toddler associates with restful times. Avoid bringing electronic or noisy toys that stimulate your child. Come armed with favorite books, a few manipulables like blocks, familiar easy puzzles, and of course, a bottle or chew foods.

One of the problems on planes is that the air pressure changes that occur during take-off and landing actually cause ear aches so having something for your toddler to suck or chew on will relieve the air pressure buildup in the middle ear that causes an earache.

Plan on keeping your toddler occupied during the trip. As much as you may need to use the trip to read or relax yourself, plan things to do with your toddler that will occupy almost all of her time. When you can, get up and let your toddler walk up and down the aisles of the plane or if you are traveling by car, plan for plenty of “rest” stops which will actually end up being “run” stops. Your rest will come after the car or plane trip has ended and you put your child down for a nice long nap or sleep.

Some moving games/songs you can play with your toddler while seated on a car or plane ride are those that involve pointing to body parts while you sing softly like:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes
And eyes, and ears and mouth and nose
Head shoulders knees and toes

Or every child’s favorite toe game:

This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy went home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And, this little piggy cried Wee, Wee, Wee all the way home

Dolls that allow practice with snaps, buckles, and zippers can also provide some “doing” time.

Categories: Family Focus