I have to give my children their props, they are gold medalists in trans-Atlantic travel. They have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to quietly sit and entertain themselves, without the aid of a screen of some sort, for hours. And I mean hours, as in 11 to 18 hours of non-stop travel. However, they were not born this way.
Whenever someone tells you, oh you are so lucky to have children that are such great travelers, or students, or with great manners, parents everywhere need to start pointing out that luck had very little to do with it. Genetics, of course, but then you have to actually do something with all of that potential. Relying on luck will not make any desired behavioral pattern appear. Or that has at least been the case in my experience. But I digress, back to tips on getting your kids to withstand, with a degree of decorum, the travails of travel.
Schedule the flight time around your child’s schedule. If you have a young child that still naps and it is a short flight, time the flight to be around nap time. Then, once the plane is in the air, go about your usual nap-time routine, 8 times out of 10 they will conk right out. If it is a long flight, as in over 8 hours, I recommend leaving in the early evening. This gives you enough time to get the child over the novelty factor, feed them dinner, brush teeth, etc., then do your usual bedtime routine. They won’t be able to sleep the entire time, but they will sleep a good bit. If scheduling around sleeping times is not possible, shift your focus to packing.
Spend some real time packing the flight bags. Each family member gets a flight bag, or a bag filled with items specific to the entertainment of that individual. For younger children, have snacks, more snacks than you think any one person could ever eat. If you don’t do this, Murphy’s law says your flight will sit on the tarmac for an extra 6 hours in Lisbon without food or water offered. Purchase sticker books, small games, and small toys and be very careful to not let the child see or know about them. This way each item out of the bag on the trip is a surprise, and it holds more interest for longer periods of time. I recommend arts and crafts items, such as bendaroos, that stick to the tray and can be as versatile as a child’s imagination. Steer clear of games and toys with small rolling parts. They will get lost immediately and screaming will ensue.
Older children need new books, special books. Maybe you haven’t let your 11 year old read Harry Potter yet, now is the time to lay that 700 page delight on them. Forget about your own flight bag. Put an iPad in there and then close your eyes at every opportunity.
Also, engage your children. If they want to draw with you, draw. If they want to read to you, let them read. Some of my best talks with my tween have come on long flights where the white noise has lulled her into letting her grumpy guard down and actually ask her mom real questions about life. And that is what I have come to view air travel as, an opportunity to spend some quality time with my kids. OK, we get plenty of quality time elsewhere, but with the right attitude, as in this is an adventure, take everything slowly and calmly, and plan, plan, plan.