A huge fear of parents is that their toddler will throw a tantrum in public. On the plane, when there is no place to take the toddler to prevent bothering others, this fear is magnified. Some worry that they will be kicked off the flight if their child throws a tantrum. While this is not likely, it has happened, at least twice just in this past year, and on two separate airlines. So the fears are not completely unfounded.
The best solution of course is to prevent the tantrums from happening at all. When a toddler is well rested, fed on time, and able to express himself, the tantrums happen less. Anyone who has a toddler knows these things are not always controllable. And toddlers are unpredictable. So….what can you do when you’re stuck on an airplane and your toddler isn’t cooperating?
As I talked about in my post Traveling with Toddlers…, the more you prepare your child for what to expect on the plane, the better the experience will be. In the weeks/days leading up to your trip, have some play time with your child pretending you are getting on an airplane. Set up chairs; emphasize buckling their seatbelt; talk about paying attention to the flight attendants. Act out anything you can think of so your child will know what to expect.
Another part of preparation is having the supplies you’ll need to keep your child content and entertained. My post Packing for Toddlers gives some ideas of how I packed for Ella at that age.
The most useful thing for this age was having a variety of snacks. I found it helpful to have a couple of snacks that were something she had never seen before: a new type of gummy candy or a new flavor of cereal…something to get excited about. This doesn’t have to be a sugary treat. I was able to keep Ella from having any type of candy until a few weeks before she turned two. And then the lollipop was a favorite. (You could always do a sugar-free lolly if you desire.)
Make sure you don’t give the “reward” until they comply with what you need them to do. For instance, when the seatbelt sign came on for landing, (if Ella was not already in her seat at the time), I would tell her, “Look! The seatbelt sign is on! Time to sit down and buckle your seatbelt. Then you can have a lollipop!” I quickly put her seatbelt on then immediately gave her the lolly. Right after that, I donned her bib (we love Bumkins Bibs, which are machine washable and waterproof yet soft). Having baby wipes nearby is a good idea, because the lolly is bound to get sticky!
While you shouldn’t give in to your child’s demands or let him be in charge, it often helps to offer sympathetic words to an upset toddler. I think one of the biggest triggers for a tantrum is the child not being able to fully express himself. Sometimes, even in the midst of the fit, just to say calmly, “I understand…you don’t want to…” lets the child know you are listening. It doesn’t mean giving in to their desires. Even now, with Ella (nearly 4), I sometimes say—even as I’m carrying her to her room through her protests—“I know you don’t want to go to bed. You’d rather stay up and play. But it’s time for bed now.” Just by me saying what she’s feeling, she (sometimes) calms down.
While none of these things guarantee a tantrum-free child, they will hopefully help at some point. As anyone who has ever had a toddler knows, there is no single solution to any toddler issue. Often the thing that works one day will not work the next. But it might work again the next week. Just remember that while this day (or flight) might be terrible, the next might be wonderful. Hang in there! Children do, at some point, grow out of the tantrum stage. You will survive!
A lollipop can sometimes be the solution to a cranky toddler…at least temporarily.