7 Sanity Savers for Small Children on Airplanes

Traveling by air with a toddler or preschooler? I’ve done this more times than I’d like to count. My best strategy is variety and surprise. Kids love anything new, or what they have not seen for a few weeks before the trip. A bag inside a bag is a great way to pack: a few simple toys in the seat pocket in front of you, with the main bag overhead. Bring out one at a time, like a magician. Or find them on the air craft. Here are seven easy, airplane-friendly tips to enchanting young children in-flight.

We're getting in that?

#1 Cup of Ice. A cup of ice is easy to ask for, and to toss. You can rattle it and put fingers in it. It’s fun to slide a piece of ice all over the tray table. The cold is instantly surprising, and may shift the mood of a crying child. Sucking on ice can help with popping ears. Be careful of choking, of course. Otherwise, a simple cup of ice works magic.

Passport Photos

#2 In-flight Magazine. For airlines that offer in-flight magazines, and claim it’s “yours to take” at the end of the flight: you’ve just hit gold. Kids can rip the pages. They can crumple them up. Toss them around. Chewing on them–up to you. Paper is magic. The sensory stimulation actually builds connections in the brain. If you hear, “mine!” a lot, you can happily proclaim, “This magazine is YOURS.”

Writing with Water

Aquadoodle. Just add water.


#3 Water writers. Aqua doodle offers a variety of brilliant water travel options. I recommend extra water pens, like this or this. They work on blank paper, too. Water coloring books are even smaller (but the pen tips are a little more delicate over time). Bonus: these are great everywhere: in hotel rooms, the car, elderly relatives’ houses, waiting rooms, or grown-up meetings.

#4 Crayon wheels. They won’t roll off the tray table, and there’s only one to keep up with. I especially love using a pencil pouch for storage (in case it gets hot; crayons could melt). A few sheets of paper (or that in-flight magazine) and a crayon wheel equals easy, no-fuss fun.

Put a Bandage on It

#5 Bandages. Not kidding. An inexpensive box of adhesive bandages printed with colorful characters can make sudden magic. I carry them in  snack bags. You probably have them in your diaper bag. Let your little one doctor you up–or his stuffed animal. Then let him use fine motor skills to carefully put all the trash away.

Finger lights

#6 Light up and spin. Especially during red-eye flights, take-off and landing, or crying fits, I recommend glow sticks, finger lights, and storm globes/disco wands. They are mesmerizing, and almost noiseless. It’s best if kids don’t see them until just the right moment. These toys appear in candy aisles at Christmas or at the dollar store, and of course on Amazon.

Prop Plane

#7 Finger Rhymes. Inevitably all the toys will need to be put away, the tray table stowed, and your child will simply want you. One of my favorites–especially during a long layover–is finger rhymes or hand rhymes. You can bring the books by Marc Brown, or do rhymes and silly songs from memory. Kids will love your attention. The short, simple games ease the mood while waiting in line, or strapped in a seat. You’ll find yourself repeating, “All around the garden, like a teddy bear. Left foot, right foot, tickle under there!”

Happy travels!

Ready for take-off

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