Flying with kids: how to stress less

When I talk to other parents about going on long flights with young children, many of them worry about what it will be like on the plane, how their child will behave, and how they will make it through a long flight with their sanity intact.

Worrying about how a trip will turn out is inevitable of course. As parents, a huge part of the job seems to be all about worrying, and being in a strange environment with your kids, away from the comforts of home and crammed into tight spaces with total strangers for hours can definitely add to the worries.

Some stress is inevitable when you're flying with kids, but too much stress can be very tiring and make it harder to deal with the situations that may come up on a long trip. Here are some ways to reduce the amount of stress when you're flying with kids:

1. Mental preparation
This might sound a little silly, but it works for me. It involves thinking about the trip ahead of time, reminding myself that yes, there will be tough spots along the way when the kids are tired and acting up, when we're all feeling exhausted and bored out of our minds and just want the trip to be over already. But none of those rough spots will last forever: eventually we will reach our destination and get some real sleep in a real bed. "This too shall pass" has been my mantra on many trips. 

2. Arrive in time
Arriving early at the airport so that you can go through check-in and security without building up stress and anxiety is very helpful.

3. Let your kids play when possible
Most kids aren't really made for sitting still for hours and hours: I know mine definitely have trouble with it. If we have some extra time at the airport, then I try to find them a play area, or some part of the airport where they can at least move around a little more freely: maybe just to play with a couple of toys on the floor, or run around a bit.

4. Sleep when you can
If my kids are sleeping on the plane, then I try to get some sleep as well. Even a short nap usually makes me feel a little less stressed, and a little bit more prepared to deal with any problems that might arise, and entertain my children for the rest of the trip. 

5. Move around on board
Sitting still in an Economy class seat for hours and hours can make you feel tense all over and that feeling of discomfort can definitely add to your travel stress. Getting up and walking around a little bit with your kids can help. If your kids are like mine, you'll be taking a walk to the bathroom frequently, so that's one way to get exercise on board! Do some on-board exercises too to reduce muscle-tension and just feel more comfortable in general.

6. Wear comfortable clothes
When I'm wearing something that is too tight, or otherwise uncomfortable, it really, really adds to my stress and anxiety level. Wearing something that feels good and also doesn't show stains and spills so much definitely helps me feel less stress on a long flight.

7. Don't worry about what other people think about you and your kids
This doesn't mean I think you should let your kids do what they like. I do have some rules my kids have to follow on board: don't kick the seat in front, don't scream, don't play with the tray table. Those are the things I find extremely annoying, so I have pretty much a zero tolerance for that.

However, if my kids are acting up, I do try (though I'm not always successful) to not stress about what other people think of us at that moment. I try as best I can to focus just on my kids, and what is making them act out. Are they tired? hungry? thirsty? overwhelmed by the whole travel-thing? scared? sick? It's hard, because as a parent you often feel like your parenting skills and your kids are being judged by everyone around you at those moments, but really, no bystander really knows what you're dealing with. As a parent, you do the best you can, and hope you can help your child calm down.

8. Try to prepare for the unexpected
Of course, it's hard to prepare for the unexpected. Delays can happen, even cancellations. Lost luggage, rough weather, strikes, mechanical problems, Icelandic volcanoes... it's all possible. You can't prepare for everything but there are some things you can do:
  • Bring more supplies than you think you'll need - This especially applies to things like diapers, formula, baby food, and the like. Do this so you don't have to stress as much about the basics in case of flight delays, or if your luggage doesn't make it on the same flight you do.
  • Bring a change of clothes - It's a bother to pack this in my hand-luggage at times, but I do feel better knowing that I do have a change of clothes for the kids, just in case of spills or other accidents.
  • Bring some medical supplies - Decongestant, fever reducer, pain-reliever, anti-nause medication, and of course some magic band-aids (nothing removes pain better for kids it seems).

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