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Flying With Kids: Survival Tactics

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach

When the Crabby Traveler polled readers on their feelings about flying with children, a significant majority said they'd like airlines to designate a special section on planes for kids. Passengers are longing for peace. Meanwhile, while we're all still lumped together in economy class, what's a parent to do?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, director of the Institute for Childhood Resources in San Francisco, is here to help. She has been writing and speaking about toys, children's products, child development and parenting for more than 25 years. She joined us for a chat on traveling with children. A transcript follows.


Dr. Stevanne Auerbach is ready for your questions.

Lee Pillsbury:

What can you recommend to distract a toddler who wants to walk up and down the aisles during meal service?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

The toddler's safety is very important. Children cannot walk up and down the aisle more than anyone else can -- you don't want your child wandering up and down the aisles. A toddler, like my grandson who I flew last summer, is happily amused with a series of books, paper activities, games and small toys. He sat still. Lap time is great for story telling, reading and activities. Sometimes children have to learn to sit still.


What age does it become easier to travel with children?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

It's never easier. Each age has its own special issues to deal with. Babies sleep but their ears are more sensitive. Toddlers want to move and be active and older children get bored. So for each age, your child needs the right stuff to make the journey.


I have a 5 month old daughter who has riden the plane twice already. However, we are planning an auto trip this summer when she will be 7 months. Any tips on how to make traveling from Wisconsin to Florida fun?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

Travel in auto, plane, train is all the same thing. When we are prepared, our child enjoys the trip even more. This includes snack, changes of clothes, a travel play bag filled with favorite things, emergency supplies, snacks, juice and water. Certainly in cars we have tie-ups and children can get restless.


I will be flying with a five month old and am concerned that she will cry because of all the noise, she startles fairly easily, and I am concerned that her ears will hurt from the altitude change. Do you have any suggestions so I will not get other passengers mad at me?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

Some children have sensitivity to noise. It might be a good idea to talk with your pediatrician for a suggestion about how to protect her ears -- she can wear earplugs that are soft and will help her to cut down the noise or ear muffs if earplugs don't work.


As a business and pleasure traveler, I have had my hair pulled, my seat back kicked, and my shoulder slept on by other people's children. Typically, I will look to the parent (or adult traveling with the child) to address the issue. Sometimes this doesn't happen. I will then firmly instruct the child to stop. Is there a more effective way of dealing with this?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

Being understanding of the child will benefit everybody. If you are so inclined, take a small sock puppet along or even an extra pair of socks and create a little puppet with your hand. Sometimes just that distraction will make all the difference. It's appropriate to ask the parents to be considerate of your needs on the flight and give them the sock puppet to play with.

Bungee Dude:

Does it make sense to have separate flights - one for families and one for business?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

It makes sense if there are enough families going to a place like Disneyland for example. But as a reality, it's not practical for the airlines.


I've seen a lot of suggestions in regards to sedating children on flights. Can you give us your thoughts on this?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

I personally do not like sedating for a variety of reasons. I think the other methods--play--should be tried first. In my book, Dr. Toy's Smart Play: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. (play quotient). I have many suggestions for products that help children more than sedation.


We're travelling from Tucson to San Diego and then back to New York next week with my ten month old son, any advice on keeping him occupied -- the last leg of the trip is scheduled for his regular bedtime.

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

His favorite bedtime toy, if it can be taken along, is a comfort. Also check for soft books, a hand puppet and even some small play things that can be taken along to comfort and distract him until he goes to sleep. More than likely, he will sleep most of the trip. (Hopefully).


My kids are 8 and 5. We leave Sunday for Disney World. I'm planning on taking a few books, some crayons, paper , a few small toys and some juice boxes with us on the plane. Any other suggestions to make our trip easier for us and the other passengers?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

A good start. Add hand-held games, a tape recorder and tapes. Listen to the children's programming on the plane. Some puzzles, activity books...they will lose interest after 10 minutes in anything, so you've got to have a large variety of items.


Juice boxes can squirt unexpectedly when you open them at altitude.

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

Better to take it in a thermos. It can be refilled enroute by the stewardess. Drinking plenty of water and liquids is important for children as well as adults.

Polly Jackson:

Is it best to just purchase a seat for a child under 2 years old and have them strapped in?

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

If you can manage, great. If not, a lap is comforting for the trip. It's safer in their own seat belt, but they often want reassurance and comfort from the lap and arms. My grandson fell asleep in my arms and slept for at least an hour of the trip and I read.

Lee Pillsbury:

Where do you recommend changing a baby's diaper on an airplane? Its nearly impossible to do so in the tiny lavatories.

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach:

Changing a diaper is absolutely challenging on the plane. The small lavatories make it tricky. I would do it carefully, using the platform in the bathroom. For the baby's comfort, changing is important.


We're out of time. Thanks for your insight today, Dr. Auerbach. You can find Dr. Auerbach's Web site at
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