Parenting on Planes

education parenting Aug 01, 2023
Parents Traveling with Daughter on Plane

{ICYMI Alexandra shared insightful strategies on how to prepare for and enjoy vacation with your family. Click here to read more.}

Before we lift off (pun intended) and explore all things parenting while on a plane, take a deep breath. If you’re anything like me (a mother to 3 amazing children under 4), the thought of commencing vacation with air travel sounds a bit daunting. However, the goal of this post is to leave you with practical strategies and the confidence to conquer the airport. You got this! Whether you are traveling by plane, train or car, I am positive you will find yourself thinking about ways to implement these actionable steps.

Previews build predictability

Like anything novel, I find that my children are most successful when we talk about what a new adventure may entail. In fact, this concept can be referred to by a singular and somewhat “fancy” word: schema. A schema is essentially a mental image. Mental images are powerful because they provide us with a level of predictability and familiarity.

Jean Piaget is a well-known psychologist and genetic epistemologist who founded The Theory of Cognitive Development. His work explores the profound role that schemas play in a child’s ability to build upon prior knowledge and process new information. If a child feels prepared for a new experience, it is safe to assume that they will feel more comfortable and thus regulated. You may notice less power struggles, tears and conflict as an added bonus. Even if your child has flown before, build upon their schema and talk about what the inside of an airport and airplane look like. Take it a step further and explore by role planning some of the procedures that occur prior to boarding. Listed below are some discussion points. You know your child best so feel free to tailor the conversation. 

  1. First we are going to print our tickets. How many people are traveling in our family? We need one ticket per person. So how many tickets will we need? 
  2. Next we will weigh our suitcases and check our bags. Do you know what that means? Where do you think our bags go once we put them on the belt? 
  3. The last step is to walk through security. I will put all of our belongings in a container so that they can be scanned. While our luggage is being scanned, we will take our shoes off and go through the metal detector- that may seem a bit silly!
  4. Finally, we will walk to our gate. The gate is like a parking spot for planes. This is a perfect time to relax. You can watch other planes land and take off, take out a book or tablet until we are ready to board. What do you think you would like to do while we wait? 
  5. Another helpful topic to preview is what it will be like on the plane. Do you remember what the seats look like? Everyone will buckle their belt just like we do in the car. Consider mentioning seating arrangement. 

Identify Roles

Those of you who have flown before know how tedious the time between finding your seat and take off can be. This period can be quite dysregulating for both children and adults. From my previous life in the classroom, I have found that children thrive with age-appropriate jobs and responsibilities. Talk to your child about some jobs that you may need help with and how they can contribute. For example, I might have my three year old pass out snacks while my two year old gives everyone their snuggle buddy for take off. Having your child actively involved is a great distraction for them. Not to mention a great opportunity for positive connection. When thinking about your child’s job, set them up for success by highlighting their strengths.

Use a travel map

This strategy takes a little bit of prep work but the benefits are ten fold. A “travel map” is just that. A map of your journey. This tool provides your child with an order of events and a preview of what will come next. Be sure to create this in collaboration with your child, including preferred activities. Of course, the map can be flexible as your child’s needs often change, but it is a great starting point. Having your child cross off each completed activity will (hopefully) alleviate some of those, “are we there yet?” or “how much longer?” questions and feelings of uncertainty. 

Here is an example travel map below:

(this map includes the following activities: snack, game, bathroom break, movie, movement break, snack, bathroom break and landing at destination)


    • The map can be hand drawn or as simple as a note on your phone. 
    • If you have younger children, consider scaffolding the map with pictures of activities or time stamps like in the example above. For older children, break down the trip with locations. This will challenge your child to figure out the plane's exact location. 
    • If you have more than one child, I suggest that each child make their own. This will allow for individualization and ensure that each child’s unique needs are met. 

While talking about travel is beneficial, having access to regulating strategies amidst what may feel like chaos is even more important. Listed below are some examples of activities that have been tried and true in helping children regulate. 

  • Drink of water
  • Movement break and change of scenery (walk, stretching, using the bathroom or simply standing) 
  • Deep breathing
  • Coloring or drawing 
  • Playdoh 
  • Fidget
  • Brain teasers like a rubik's cube or puzzle 

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. It’s true. A dysregulated adult cannot support a dysregulated child. Remember the tools that help you stay regulated so you can bring calm to the chaos. We hope you try one (or all!) of these strategies while you are making wonderful memories with your family. Safe travels!


  On-the- go resources:

Arts & Crafts: 

  1. LCD Writing Tablet 

  2. Mazes & Puzzles 

  3. Paint by Stickers 

  4. Mindfulness Coloring Book


  1. I SPY Travel 

  2. Magnetic Tangram Puzzles

  3. Dog Pile

  4. Busy Board

Sign Up Here for Our Monthly Newsletter

We will never spam you or sell your personal information.