I know flights seem to be the most stressful part of travelling with kids. I get that – little people, confined spaces, many hours, etc. But what about the airport?
Having a good run through the airport can really set you up for a win on the plane. There are many studies worldwide that show how much children feed on the stress of their parents and if there is one place in the world that often brings the worst out in people, its the AIRPORT! It’s a very busy place, people everywhere, bags being dragged behind, trolleys stacked high with suitcases making it hard to see little people in front, parents having to take their eyes of their kids for a moment to check the board for their flight, the list goes on. It is easy to see how it can be stressful for a parent but seeing this all from someone who is half your size really changes your perspective on airports and busy places in general.
I am no expert, I have no degree in child psychology BUT I am a mum who travels with her kids and although we definitely are not perfect, I have come up with a way that we get through airports in one piece, without loosing a child or two and not too often loosing our cool!
So here they are, my not so secret tools – communication and preparation! Seems so simple right… well here is what the practical side looks like:
Talk it through with the kids. Airports are a step by step process, lucky for us kids often learn very well from step by step processes! So take the time to go through the whole process with them:
1.Drop off – Talk about it.
- How are we getting to the airport?
- Who is carrying what bag?
- Who is going in the stroller? (trust me, this can save a kerbside tantrum from a 2yr old who does not want to get in the stroller)
- Who are we saying goodbye to? (for example: ‘don’t worry, we’ll see Nanny & Poppa in a little while’ or ‘We have had a great time with ……., but now we say see you later to them’) My kids hate goodbyes so preparing them for the moment helps a bit.
- Quick check of the car or taxi to make sure everyone has everything.
2. Check in – Explain the check in process including how we have to line up and wait our turn. Explain how the attendant will put special tags on the case and put them on a special belt that will take them to the plane for us (‘Don’t cry, she isn’t stealing our bags…!’). Get them to smile and look at the attendant when they are checking the passports. I also get my kids to sit at my feet so I know where they are and that they are not in the way while I check in.
3. Customs – Tell them what customs is all about and why it is so important. There is yet another line to wait in so prepare them for that. When it is your turn then explain that we must stand still and look at the officer so that they can check your face against your passport photo. Smile and say thank you when you leave, teach them respect for officers and not that the process is a hassle.
4. Security – Possibly the most stressful part! It doesn’t have to be though so again explain the process:
- First we line up and wait for our turn.
- When we get to the security gate we have to put our bags on the belt to go through the bag scanner. Its not scary and they are not going to steal your precious dolly/teddy/blanket etc.
- We must not have any full bottles of water but we will be able to get a drink once we have finished at security.
- We have to then walk through the gate that scans us. You will go through first and stand with the officer while I come through or Daddy/Mummy will go through first and you can then walk through to them and wait for me to come after. (Or however you think that little moment will work best for you)
- We may be asked to take our shoes and/or hat off and that is ok. (I steer away from hats during a flight as it can distress a kid if they have to take it off)
- Once we get through then we can collect our bags, put on our shoes and off we go.
- Remember that it is really important to stay close to us and do as you are told by the officers there.
5. Once your airside – This is where you can grab a bite to eat if you have time. We have our own little treat and that is usually a Happy Meal from McDonalds. The kids look forward to this part which helps them get through the rest of the boring bits! Do try and only give them water explaining that the other drinks may make them go to the toilet a lot and/or give them a sugar high right before flying! Find something they like and do that while waiting. (Our other option is sushi!) A special treat after doing really well through the process of getting through goes a long way.
6. Boarding – Again… the process!
- We line up to get on the plane.
- Everyone has their own bags
- Stay close and walk together.
- Once at our seats then sit down and wait until all our bags are stowed and then we will get you set up for the flight.
- We must have our seat belts on while we fly.
7. Arrival – Everyone carries their own bag and we stick together as we get off the plane. We then go through customs again so, just like before, we have to line up and look at the officer while he checks our passport. We can then go and collect our bags but it is really important that we don’t climb on the belt the bags come on as it could hurt you.
A quick explanation as to how you are getting to you final destination is good too.
This is obviously for an international flight. Domestic flights have a few less things to go through but you get the idea.
I bet your thinking ‘far out, that seems like a lot to talk about, will they even understand?’ You would be surprised how much it helps, even when they are young. Just make it a part of your breakfast or dinner conversation in the days leading up to your big trip and when they have done it once then they’ll be pros!
Hope this helps and don’t forget to check out my previous post that includes a fun scavenger hunt for the airport for those kids who are a little bit older (4yrs+) and want something fun to break up the boring bits! Available in digital and printable versions.
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