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Waging War on Meltdowns in Mid-Air

The cache; Hawaii or bust.

Part of the cache; Hawaii or bust.

From now until Sunday morning, y’all can refer to me as the General George S. Patton of family travel.

The now-legendary military leader, who fought in the European theater of World War II, was renowned for his strategy, his tactical precision, and the way he prepared his troops for battle. As we Villanos get ready for a five-hour flight en route to (two weeks on) Oahu, I’m attempting to pull a page from The Old Man’s book.

My task: To orchestrate a sufficient number of in-flight diversions/distractions for our uber-active and constantly-in-motion toddler, who has not flown since she learned how to walk.

Generally speaking, I believe family travel is best experienced when adventures happen organically. On airplanes, however, especially when you know your kid is going to have a rough time, a little bit of planning goes a long way.

I’ve decided to break down the four hours of cruising time (that is, everything but the 30 minutes during take-off and landing) into eight 30-minute segments. I like this strategy because the notion of spending 30 minutes on one task before moving to something else seems to match R’s attention span pretty well. What’s more, this same strategy worked with our older daughter on (much longer) flights to and from Europe.

Also, it allows for a certain degree of flexibility, because R undoubtedly will sleep for at least an hour or 90 minutes of the jaunt.

Here are some of the segment activities in my Plan A:

  • Pipe-cleaners and Cheerios for edible bracelet-making.
  • (Washable) Crayons and paper for coloring.
  • Books (that I and Powerwoman will read, of course).
  • Snacks (such as blueberries, pretzels, raisins, and more).
  • Easily removable stickers (for sticking anywhere and everywhere).

Plan B includes similar-but-different ideas: Dozens of Wikki Stix, Play-Doh (in small quantities), a dry-erase activity mat with dry-erase crayons, and glowy bracelets and necklaces, to name a few.

You might notice the absence of videos on this list. It’s because we’re sort of psycho about minimizing screen time for our girls. We’ll be ready with “Baby Einstein” programs and the PBS Parents Play & Learn app if we need them, but we really only plan to use those tactics as a last resort.

If all goes well, we’ll have one or two activities to spare by the time we touch down in Honolulu.

If the trip is a struggle—which, we understand, it could be—we’ll take in stride those dirty looks from fellow passengers and work together to get R through the experience quickly and quietly.

Either way, I’ll stand by my Patton-esque approach. In mid-air, you can never be too prepared to avert a meltdown. Beside, all of the diversions we don’t roll out en route we can save for the hotel room—or the trip home.

 What are some of the tactics you use to distract and/or entertain your kids when you fly?