Kids this age are ready and eager to participate in their travel adventure. Be sure to include them in the decision-making process whenever you can. They are making their own decisions about what they want and often have a plan for how to get it. Because their youthful communication style is impulsive and motivated by what they want, it may easy to forget how much they’ve grown and transformed to get to that level of critical thinking.
They are capable of organized, logical thought so let them make some of their own decisions. Your child is capable of concrete problem-solving so ask their advice about either/or and this/that questions to empower them. At this stage, children often move from being reactive thinkers to being more reflective ones. How do I fit in here? They think more logically about world events, begin to have a sense of time and space while still viewing them subjectively instead of objectively. They start to look at causes and begin asking more challenging questions. How fun this age is!
Take the opportunity to allow them to participate in packing and perhaps even selecting a new backpack to take on the plane with a number of toys of their own choosing. In the airport and on the plane, they’ll experience the benefits of their decisions. I encourage you to let them choose one new item to purchase at the airport to get them involved in decision making at every level of the travel experience.
Young kids at this age are fascinated by flying. Give them window seats when you can. If they have siblings, before you leave home discuss who will get the window outbound and who gets it on the way back. Take the opportunity to review the emergency card with them and discuss the configuration of the airplane seats. Show them how to work the options such as light, fan and tray table. Be sure to remind them of good airplane behavior that you discussed prior to the trip. No kicking the seat in front of you. Inside voices. Special things go the seat pocket. Keep your personal space tidy. Show them how to operate the options on the touch screen or remote control and how to use their headphones.
Fun on the Flight:
I’ve interviewed many flight attendants on international flights about what advice they would give parents preparing to take kids on a long haul flight based on what they have seen themselves. It’s shocking how many parents don’t bring things for their kids to do. For this age, you need to plan activities for your child for them …with their input. Most international carriers do have cartoons and a kid channel on the inflight entertainment system. Many planes have screens in the seat back in front but if the only screen is the kind above the aisle, it can be a challenge for your child to see it as they are still small. And, the movie may not be fun. Check with your airline the options they offer. Tablets such as iPad or Amazon Fire occupy kids attention very well at this age. Same with Playstation DS or other handhelds. Battery life can be an issue so check if your carrier has outlets at your seat or you may consider bringing a spare battery along. (see Marketplace Electronics section) Kindles, when charged, will outlast any flight no problem. Other things to bring can include Transformers or small Lego for boys, Polly Pocket or similar or a jewelry making kit for girls. Let them pick something out before the trip. Also, having a couple of surprised gift-wrapped things in your bag to pull out if they get crabby is a great diversion.
My kids always liked connect the dots and puzzles. You can play cards with them. School age kids enjoy telling jokes and puns and playing more advanced games. They can understand more grown-up media. This is true over the whole trip so planning some games or thought provoking activities in advance is a good plan for parents. [See the Jokes & Riddles and Education pages for the countries you are visiting].
Food on the Flight:
It’s a good idea to look to see what kind of kids meals are available on your flight. If you need to order a special meal, don’t forget. You can look on your airline website. If the kids eat the standard meals, typically one is meat and one is pasta. Bring lots of healthy snacks on board. What if your flight is delayed and you have to sit on board for a while? Have food! Let the kids carry some of their own. (Keep in mind you have to get through Security so no pudding, applesauce, etc). Jet lag is exacerbated by dehydration so be sure your children drink plenty of water.
Tell them in advance what’s going to happen at the airport and on the plane. Discuss Security and how cool it is. Discuss what happens when you are ready for takeoff. First wait in line …taxi to runway …build up speed for lift …and you’re off! It’s a good time for a science lesson, introducing new vocabulary, recognizing good social skills and reinforcing the idea trying out a new experience is nothing to be afraid of. If you have a fearful child, review here how to manage Fear of Flying. And, if you need a science brush-up yourself on how planes fly, check this out. It’s a good way to discuss geography if you have a window seat.
School age children no longer consider Mom and Dad to be the sole authorities. They start to rely more on their own judgments. This evaluation is normal, and it means they are becoming critical thinkers. They may challenge you or appear to want nothing to do with you. No worries. Understand this is healthy and find ways to give them more space to explore. That said, the bottom line is that they must maintain good behavior in public places. Good manners are not an option. Teaching manners and good behavior to school age children should be done in a nice voice. Take advantage as opportunities appear. Give reasons that things are done in a certain why. If they disagree, instead of having a confrontation, ask them how they would do it. It’s okay to negotiate some things and let your child “win” sometimes. It teaches them respect between people. Polite children are more socially accepted and are more successful in life. Good manners promote self-esteem so incorporate good modeling of positive behaviors whenever you can. Your behavior will also let them know that you have the last word as their parent and they will respect you for having reasonable limits.