During a recent plane trip I observed the most amazing mom with her children on a flight from Chicago to Rochester. I first got a glimpse of her as she pushed a GoGo Kidz Travelmate car seat with her 18-month-old in it, her 5-and-a-half-year-old in close tow. With precision and ease, she placed her older son in the aisle seat and the 18-month-old on his lap. With assurance she asked the older boy to help and hold onto his brother while she adroitly removed the wheels from the car seat, secured it in the window seat, and placed the wheels in the overhead compartment. She then placed her youngest in his car seat, secured his harness and belted her kindergartener into his seat. Without missing a beat, she took out a bag of toy vehicles and asked him to pick one to play with while she quickly prepared a bottle for her toddler. For the next two hours this mom went back and forth between her children, supplying them with toys, headsets, food and, most importantly, her attention. She obviously prepped them well as to what to expect on the flight, including what they would be hearing through their headsets. She pointed out and explained what was going on during takeoff, and when turbulence occurred, she explained what was happening. Mom never seemed flustered or overwhelmed, and remained very in-tune and connected with her children. She seemed to make everything a personal learning experience, and her children just took it all in. By the time we had landed, she had the wheels back on the car seat with her toddler in it and her other son wearing his backpack, ready to debark. She was simply masterful as a parent, and both her kids responded.
So what did this mom do that so many other parents don’t when they take their children on a long trip or plane flight? Well, she obviously prepared her children for what to expect (from takeoff to landing). This could have included a trip to the airport first, or perhaps some children’s books on flying ("Airport," "That Noisy Airplane Ride" or "My First Airplane Ride," to name a few). They knew what was going to happen and they understood their part in it, including their “jobs” (holding his younger brother as mom got the car seat ready, carrying his back pack on board). My guess is the older boy helped pack what toys they were bringing on the flight and each child had his own “bag” of toys. Mom also had a couple of favorite books she read to her kids during the flight. Remember the old adage: “busy children are happy children.”
In addition, mom gave her kiddos something to drink or a snack to chew or suck on right away. This helped keep the pressure in their ears tolerable as the plane took off, which might have made them uncomfortable. She also did the same when they landed. She had brought a variety of snacks and drinks for her kids to have (no junk food though) and kept them in plastic bags and containers for easy access and cleanup. Her toddler had a pacifier available to him if he wanted (though I did not see him take it). Mom had lots of diapers for him (he was changed once), and she used wipes to clean the hands of both her children as needed.
Most important, mom kept talking to her kids throughout their journey — what was going on as the plane taxied and as it took off and landed, what they could see through the window, etc. She was available to both her children constantly, and though her attention was split, I don’t think either child realized it. Good parenting often takes lots of preparation, but when it occurs, it appears effortless and is beautiful to see.
Bob Trapani is an occupational therapist and owner of Thrive By 5, an early intervention and preschool service provider in Cayuga County, as well as chair of the New York State Occupational Therapy Association and an Advanced DIR Floortime provider.