Flying with children: top tips for a smooth flight

You may have logged thousands of air miles but traveling with young children – especially for the first time – can be anxiety-provoking for some parents. In-flight tantrums. Landing at your destination frustrated instead of ready for fun. These certainly can’t be on the list of vacation memories you want to make. CHOC’s child life specialists, of whom many are parents to young kids, offer the following tips for flying with little ones.

  • While most travelers are accustomed to arriving early at the airport, passengers with kids in tow need to add even more time for getting through the terminals. In addition to security checkpoints, consider the need for extra bathroom breaks, stops for snacks and distractions that can easily lure the attention of fresh-eyed explorers.
  • Talk to your kids about what to expect, from arriving at the airport and boarding the plane to landing and collecting your luggage.
  • Pack munchies, including – if age-appropriate – small lollipops to help with air pressure changes during take-off and landing. (Sucking on a bottle or pacifier can be helpful for infants.)
  • Make sure your carry-on contains plenty of on-the-go activities, like a portable water doodle, stickers by number, small puzzles or magnet scenes, finger puppets, small books, flash cards and travel-sized games. And don’t forget to load your phone or tablet with kid-friendly entertainment.
  • Consider wrapping a few inexpensive items and surprising young travelers with them throughout the flight.
  • Got a window seat? Window clings can be a magical distraction.
  • Bring child-sized headphones for in-flight entertainment. The airlines’ headphones aren’t designed for little ones’ ears.
  • Don’t forget your child’s favorite comfort item, like a stuffed animal or blanket.
  • Have extra clothes on hand for kids – and you – in case of accidents and spills.
  • If your little one is used to a sound machine for sleep, pick up a portable one or download an app on your phone or tablet. This is especially helpful for long flights.

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Tips for traveling with picky eaters

By Sarah Kavlich, registered dietitian at CHOC

When you’re a parent dealing with a picky eater, childhood and picky eating can seem synonymous. It’s easy to cater to the pickiness in an effort to avoid a struggle at mealtimes. However, this can sometimes worsen their habits. With summer just around the corner and as we move into warmer months filled with fun, travel and a break from school, parents can use this opportunity to try some new and interesting foods with their picky eater. Whether you’re traveling or staying at home, this time of year can offer an opportunity to experience a new culture through food.

Tips for introducing new foods to toddlers

Remember that kids are learning to eat so consider changing your mindset before heading into meals. Remember that they won’t necessarily eat much of a new food the first time they try it. Repeated exposure to that new food will help them become more comfortable with the food over time. Research suggests it can take up to 20 encounters with a food before someone develops a preference. So, if it is a food you would like to be a mainstay in your child’s diet, don’t give up right away but also don’t force it. Maintain structure by letting your child know that everyone in your family eats the same meals, and there are no separate kids’ meals. This can be a tough pattern to break but offering a small amount of the new food alongside a few familiar foods or a favorite dipping sauce during the meal can help.

Tips for traveling with picky eaters

Exposing your children to new foods while at home, in a lower pressure environment, can help expand their palate before traveling. Start by offering just a small taste test of the new food alongside some familiar foods that your child already feels comfortable eating.

Talk about your upcoming adventure and some of the things your family might experience there, including testing new food together. Kids learn by example and often model the behavior of the people they are closest to, so make sure you have an open mind as well. It’s ok for children to have different food preferences than their parents.  If your child shows interest in a new food that you may not enjoy, go ahead and let them try it without assuming they won’t like it.

On your trip, pack a few of your child’s favorite foods or snacks that travel well like bars, dry cereal or crackers, or pick up some fruits, vegetables, yogurts, or cheese at a local market to help ease them into the new cuisine. Healthy snacks will also help your child from becoming overly hungry between meals. Use words like “exploring” and “adventure” as you offer new foods to promote a more enjoyable atmosphere. Most importantly have fun as you learn together and create lasting memories with your family.

At home before a trip, set the stage by offering some of the foods you might experience on your upcoming travels, like this healthy recipe:

Rice with Lemongrass and Green Onion


(Serves four)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup long-grain white rice

1 3/4 cups water

2 12-inch-long lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch-long pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large green onion, chopped


Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup onion and turmeric and sauté 5 minutes. Mix in rice. Add water, lemongrass and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand covered 10 minutes. Discard lemongrass.

Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add green onion and sauté 1 minute. Add rice and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt.

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Child Passenger Safety Tips for Your Next Vacation

Finding the right car seat for your little passenger is an important task for all parents. Recent legislation states all children in California must be in rear-facing car seats until age two. If you’re traveling this summer, consider the following guidelines for passenger safety from the experts of CHOC community education department.

No matter what your mode of transportation might be, bring your own car seat whenever possible, instead of renting one through a car rental service, says Amy Frias, community educator at CHOC.

“It’s hard to know if that company has really kept the car seat clean, if it was ever involved in a crash, or recalled ,” says Frias.

If you are flying and cannot travel with your own car seat, and you are meeting family or friends, have them bring a car sear to the airport when you arrive.

Children over the age of two must have their own seat on an airplane, and in these circumstances, says Frias, using an appropriate car seat protects kids from turbulence.

When purchasing a car seat, CHOC community educators recommend purchasing a seat that fits well into your vehicle, fits your child and your budget.  Another consideration would be if you travel often by air, you may want a lighter seat.

Summer is also a popular time for recreational vehicle travel. Many parents assume that RVs have the same safety standards as a bus, given their size, which is not true, says Frias.

The most common injuries related to RV travel revolve around projectiles- which could even include cabinetry that appears properly mounted to the interior walls. Loose objects in the RV pose additional dangers.

“If your family is traveling by RV this summer, the safest place for your child to ride is in a car that may be caravanning with the RV, and properly restrained in their appropriate car seat,” says Frias. “RVs are rarely ideal for transporting children.”

Car seats should never be installed in RV seats that face backwards or sideways. For all passengers, make sure they are buckled up when the RV is moving.

“Traveling with kids can be exciting but challenging says Frias. Parents should remember that safety doesn’t go on vacation when you do.”

For questions about the car seat that is best suited for your family, call CHOC’s community education department at 714-509-8897.

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Don’t Let Motion Sickness Interfere with Holiday Travel Plans

The holidays are right around the corner, often triggering an extra-busy travel season. For some kids, more travel can mean more motion sickness putting a damper on family festivities.

Motion sickness, most common in school-aged children, occurs when one part of your balance-sensing system (eyes, ears, sensory nerves) knows your body is moving, but the other parts don’t, sending mixed signals to the brain.  For example, when riding in a car, a child’s inner ear can sense movement, but if he’s too small to see out the window, the brain is also getting messages that the body is still.  The brain gets a little confused, which can result in symptoms associated with motion sickness.

There are several things parents can do to help prevent their young travelers from experiencing motion sickness.

  • Avoid greasy food or big meals right before a car or airplane ride, since that can upset an already queasy tummy.
  • When possible —and safe to do so— have the child ride in the middle seat, which has the least amount of motion. Keep in mind child passenger safety guidelines.
  • Sing along to music or ask kids to play an “I Spy” game — easy distractions that can help your children keep their minds off potential motion sickness. Reading books or watching movies can make motion sickness worse.
  • Make sure children who are prone to motion sickness can see out the window. If possible, roll car windows down for fresh air.

When packing for holiday travel, be sure to include dry crackers, water or juice, “barf” bags and an extra set of clothes, should your child get sick.  If motion sickness strikes during a car ride, pull over to the side of the road as soon as it’s safe to do so.  If you’re able to, find a safe location for your child to get out of the car. If possible, place other passengers away from kids with motion sickness.  Sometimes, watching someone get sick can trigger a similar response in others.  Remind children that motion sickness is not contagious

Some anxiety could be brought on by getting carsick regularly. Remind kids and other siblings that it’s not their fault, and they didn’t do anything wrong that caused them to get sick.

Motion sickness is not a gastrointestinal disorder. A fever, decreased appetite, or other symptoms may be signs of another illness, warranting a call to the pediatrician.

Although not the first line of defense, there are several over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help kids cope with motion sickness. Check with your child’s pediatrician before administering any medication.

Travel Tips for Your Family

Whether your family is jet-setting across an ocean or taking a quick road trip up north, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has many family vacation travel tips to help you stay safe, and make the idea of travel with kids stress-free.

Car travel

  • Most rental car companies can provide a car safety seat, but selection may be limited. Check that the provided seat is size- and age-appropriate for your child.
  • Set a good example by always wearing a seat belt, even in a taxi.
  • Keep children occupied by pointing out interesting sights along the way and by bringing soft, lightweight toys and favorite music for a sing-along.
  • Plan to stop driving and give yourself and your child a break about every two hours.
  • Never leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute. Temperatures inside the car can reach deadly levels in minutes, and the child can die of heat stroke.
  • Parents should carry safe water and snacks, child-safe hand wipes, diaper rash ointment, and a water- and insect-proof ground sheet for safe play outside.

International travel

  • Check with your doctor to see if your child might need additional vaccines or preventive medications, and make sure your child is up-to-date on routine vaccinations. Bring mosquito protection in countries where mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria are present.
  • To avoid jet lag, adjust your child’s sleep schedule two to three days before departure. After arrival, children should be encouraged to be active outside or in brightly lit areas during daylight hours to promote adjustment.
  • Stay within arm’s reach of children while swimming, as pools may not have safe, modern drain systems and both pools and beaches may lack lifeguards.
  • Road travel can be extremely hazardous in developing countries. Make sure each passenger is buckled and that children use the appropriate car safety seat. Let your driver know you are not in a hurry, and that you will reward safe driving.
  • Conditions at hotels and other lodging may not be as safe as those in the United States. Carefully inspect your room for exposed wiring, pest poisons, paint chips, or inadequate stairway or balcony railings.
  • When traveling, be aware that cribs or play yards provided by hotels may not meet current U.S. safety standards. If you have any doubt about the safety of the crib or play yard, ask for a replacement or consider other options.

Airplane travel

  • Allow your family extra time to get through security, especially when traveling with younger children.
  • Have children wear shoes and outer layers of clothing that are easy to take off for security screening. Children younger than 12 are not required to remove their shoes for routine screening.
  • Strollers can be brought through airport security and gate-checked to make travel with small children easier.
  • Talk with your children about the security screening process before coming to the airport. Let them know that bags (backpack, dolls, etc.) must be put in the X‑ray machine and will come out the other end and be returned to them.
  • Discuss the fact that it’s against the law to make threats such as; “I have a bomb in my bag.” Threats made jokingly (even by a child) can delay the entire family and could result in fines.
  • Arrange to have a car safety seat at your destination or bring your own.
  • When traveling on an airplane, a child is best protected when properly restrained in a car safety seat until the child weighs more than 40 pounds and can use the aircraft seat belt.
  • The car safety seat should have a label noting that it is Federal Aviation Administration-approved. Belt-positioning booster seats cannot be used on airplanes, but they can be checked as luggage (usually without baggage fees) for use in rental cars and taxis.
  • Although the FAA allows children under age 2 to be held on an adult’s lap, the AAP recommends that families explore options to ensure that each child has her own seat. If it is not feasible to purchase a ticket for a small child, try to select a flight that is likely to have empty seats where your child could ride buckled in her car safety seat. Alternatively, there are also some FAA-approved harnesses for older infants and toddlers that fold down in a small, compact bag for convenience.
  • Pack a bag of toys and snacks to keep your child occupied during the flight.
  • To decrease ear pain as the plane climbs or descends, encourage your infant to nurse or suck on a bottle. Older children can try chewing gum or drinking liquids with a straw.
  • Wash hands frequently, and consider bringing hand-sanitizing gel to prevent illnesses during travel.
  • Consult your pediatrician before flying with a newborn or infant who has chronic heart or lung problems or with upper- or lower-respiratory symptoms.
  • Consult your pediatrician if flying within two weeks of an ear infection or ear surgery.

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