I’m more frequently asked by people how they should deal with other people’s kids while traveling than I am asked for tips on how people should manage their own kids. This leads me to believe that other people’s kids are the real problem here, as seems to be the case with most things. I’m not an expert on other people’s kids but can provide my own “how to’s” for managing or avoiding the most common kid travel mistakes:
- It is your kid. Basically, if your kid is under the age of 5 and he is awake in an airport, on an airplane, etc. – then he’s stressing someone out. You’re never going to make all of these people happy but acknowledging that your kid is not perfect is a great start to level-setting the environment.
- Pre-trip chat. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’ve found now that my daughter has reached her preschool years that we can actually have conversations about things and she retains the details. Well, most of them. She may not always adhere to my wish that she not incessantly tap her foot on the back of the chair in front of her, but at least I’m able to remind her about why it’s rude – in a loving, firm whisper – instead of her hearing it for the first time in flight. The best advice takes time to sink in, even for adults.
- Incentivize, otherwise known as bribing. Hey, I’m not perfect. I bribe my kids from time to time, and it’s good advice, believe me. As part of your pre-trip chat, consider an agreement that rewards good behavior in advance – and this doesn’t always have to be with sweets. For instance, after nearly a year of her begging, I recently told my daughter that she could dress her younger brother however she wanted for our upcoming trip if she helped keep him happy on the flight. His shirt was inside out, he wore pajama bottoms and a barrette in his hair – but we received no nasty looks from fellow travelers. Success.
- The carry-on. What you bring with you has never mattered more than it does in an enclosed space with young children. Think of your carry-on as your magic bag, your lifeline. Pack low-sugar snacks, a few surprises like new books or small toys and other distractions. And be sure to ration everything. If you show them your hand too early, you’ll be rendered defenseless before the first drink cart appears.
- No in-flight movie for you. Unless your kids are over the age of six, you should not plan on enjoying the movie, a nap, a magazine or good book. These were a few of the perks you gave up when you brought your little bundle of joy into the world – and onto the plane. However, I can say that I’ve read the safety brochure to both of my kids at least three dozen times and it’s not lost a bit of its luster.
- Small spaces. Disciplining your child in public is frustrating, but having to do so in the 2 foot by 2 foot space that is your airline seat is even more of challenging. Whether you like it or not, your discipline skills will have an audience. So choose words wisely and more than anything – curb your own frustration.
- Remember, you’ve been there. Many business travelers are also parents – some of whom I’ve seen sneer at struggling, stressed-out parents traveling with kids. Trust me, any stress you feel as a kid-free traveler is miniscule compared to that which the mother is feeling each time her kid lets out a howl. Your actions can actually complicate the situation by causing her to panic. Kids detect fear and they almost always respond with one action – more screams.
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “There is no such thing as fun for the whole family”, and many parents would agree when it comes to travel. In those harrowing moments you may not want to be the parent of the screaming baby or antsy toddler, but remember that this too will pass, and likely faster than the nose-picking-in-public stage.