How to Keep a Toddler Busy on an Airplane

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Many parents dread spending hours on an airplane with a toddler, but there are ways to make the experience as comfortable and relaxed as possible. If you have some time to prepare for your trip, pack your bag with items to keep your toddler busy during the flight. You can even make some special items to entertain your toddler if you like to get crafty! If you are already on a plane without any special gear, then there are several things you can try.


EditPacking Things to Entertain Your Toddler

  1. Pack a few of your toddler’s favorite books. Reading your toddler their favorite books can be a great way to entertain them. This may also help to distract your toddler if they are feeling uncomfortable or impatient with being on the plane.[1]
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    • You may also want to pack a few new books so your toddler will have something new and exciting to look at.
  2. Give your toddler nesting cups to stack and play with. Nesting cups are compact, inexpensive, and they can provide lots of entertainment for a toddler. Your toddler will have fun stacking and nesting them and banging them together. Lower the tray table in front of your toddler so that they have a place to play with the cups.[2]
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    • If you don’t have nesting cups, you could also give your toddler a few plastic cups to play with. Ask the flight attendant if they would mind giving you a few empty cups.
  3. Give your toddler some gel clings to decorate the window. You can provide your toddler with gel cling stickers and let them press them onto the window for a fun activity. These are available in craft supply stores and they come in all kinds of designs. The don’t permanently stick on the window and they are easy for little hands to stick them on and take them off.[3]
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    • Make sure to remove the gel clings from the window before you leave the plane!
  4. Pack travel games to play together. There are lots of different travel games that you can purchase and play with your toddler. Look for games that are appropriate for your child’s age. Some toddlers may also be able to play basic card games.[4]
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    • Try getting a travel BINGO card that you can help your toddler fill out.
    • Get a simple game, such as Connect 4, and show your toddler how to play.
    • Puzzles and peg boards are also good options for playing with your toddler on the plane.
    • Bring a standard deck of cards and play Go Fish, or get a special card game meant for young children, such as Old Maid.
  5. Bring a container of play-dough. Play-dough is a great sensory play item for your toddler. Give them a ball of play-dough and place a plastic mat over the tray table. Then, let your toddler create with the play-dough! You can even join in with them and mold items that they ask you to.[5]
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    • For example, if your toddler wants to make a play-dough snowman, you could make the buttons, nose, eyes, and a scarf to place on it.
  6. Download an app or some videos onto your tablet or phone. Although you might not usually let your toddler watch TV or play tablet games, allowing them to indulge in some screen time during the flight may be a good way to keep them entertained. Download a toddler-friendly show or movie that your child can watch during the flight.[6]
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    • Keep in mind that it is unlikely that your toddler will want to watch a show or movie for the entire flight, so make sure that you have plenty of other options for them.

EditMaking Special Items for the Trip

  1. Create a goody bag for your toddler to open on the plane. Fill a bag with a variety of toys, games, crayons, stickers, snacks, and other items that your toddler will enjoy. Then, give your toddler the bag on the plane and let them unpack it! They will have fun taking all of the new items out of the bag and they can choose what they like to keep them occupied. Some items you could place in the bag include:[7]
    Keep a Toddler Busy on an Airplane Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • A coloring book and crayons
    • A board book
    • Stickers
    • A few of their favorite snacks
    • A small plush toy
    • Toy cars
    • A plastic container with a hole cut in the lid and pom poms to stuff into the hole[8]
  2. Wrap small presents and give them to your toddler during the flight. Pick up several little items that you think your toddler might like and wrap them individually. These can be new items or items from home that your toddler enjoys playing with. Wrap each of the items and then plan to give your toddler 1 present every half hour or so during the flight.[9]
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    • Try telling your toddler that the present is a reward for good behavior and that they will get another if they continue to be good.
  3. Draw scenes and have your toddler decorate them with stickers. Bring a tablet of construction paper and some markers. Then, ask your toddler what they want you to draw. You can offer them several options, such as a house, a race track, a tree, or a boat. Then, give your toddler the finished drawing and let them decorate it with stickers.[10]
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    • Try getting some stickers that will match up with different scenes, such as animal, flower, and weather stickers.

EditPlanning Logistics for the Trip

  1. Request a window seat and let your toddler sit next to it. Before, during, and after takeoff, your toddler may love looking at the views outside of the plane! If possible, request a window seat and let your toddler sit in it. Direct their attention to the window when they are readying the plane for takeoff, show them the ground whizzing by as the plane speeds up, and then let them enjoy the view as the plane glides over the clouds.[11]
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    • If you are bringing your toddler’s car seat on board, this will give them an even better view out the window.
  2. Bring plenty of snacks that your toddler likes. Keeping your toddler full on the plane will help to ensure that they do not get upset due to hunger. Bring lots of snacks that your toddler enjoys and give them something to munch on every 1 to 2 hours during the flight.[12]
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    • If you forgot to pack snacks, ask the flight attendant if they have any toddler-friendly snacks you could give your child.
  3. Visit the bathroom and do a diaper change before boarding. Visiting the bathroom and doing a diaper change right before you board the plane will help to ensure that you do not have to change a diaper soon after takeoff. Find the nearest bathroom to the gate where you will board the plane and visit it right before you board the plane with your little one.[13]
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    • Make sure to bring a changing mat on the plane as will since there might not be a changing table available.
  4. Show your child how to yawn to help relieve the pressure in their ears. If your child starts to cry or complain about their ears hurting, show them how to yawn. Yawning can help to relieve some of the pressure in your little one’s ears.[14]
    Keep a Toddler Busy on an Airplane Step 13.jpg
    • Chewing and drinking can also help, so you could give your little one a snack and something to sip on. Nursing, or having your little one drink from a bottle or sippy cup can also be really helpful for your toddler during takeoff and landing.
    • There are also special earplugs available that can help to neutralize the pressure and prevent ear pain during and after the flight.

EditEntertaining Your Toddler without Kid Supplies

  1. Get up and walk the aisles with your toddler when it is allowed. Once the captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign, you could walk up and down the aisle with your toddler. This will allow your toddler a chance to move around and stretch their legs, which may be much needed after being stuck in a seat for an hour or more.[15]
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    • Ensure that the flight attendants are not using the aisles for food and beverage service before you start walking up and down them with your toddler.
  2. Draw a face on the bottom of a paper bag to make a puppet. Airplanes usually have a small bag in the pocket in front of each seat. This bag is meant as a container to get sick into if needed, but you can also use it as a way to entertain your toddler. Get out a pen, pencil, marker, or crayon and draw a silly face on the bottom of the bag. Then, stick your hand into the bag and use the bag as a puppet to entertain your toddler.[16]
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    • Have the puppet sing, talk, and do other things to entertain your toddler.
    • Give the bag to your toddler and let them operate the puppet as well.
  3. Get out the magazines in the seat pocket and look through them. There should be an assortment of magazines in the seat pocket in front of you. Pull out any kid-friendly magazines and look at them together. Read to your toddler from the magazine, point out what is in the pictures, and ask them questions about what they see.
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    • There may even be some games in the magazine that you can play with your toddler.
    • If there are no kid-friendly magazines in the seat pocket, as the flight attendant if they have any.
  4. Play “I Spy” with your child. Simple games are great for passing the time and keeping your toddler happy on an airplane. Try playing “I Spy” by choosing an easy to spot object, such as the fasten seatbelt sign. Then, choose a word to describe its shape, color, or other features.
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    • For example, you could start a game of “I Spy” by saying to your toddler, “I spy with my little eye something square.”
    • Add more descriptive terms until your toddler guesses the item. Then, have them choose something and you guess what it is.
  5. Allow your toddler to watch in-flight programming. If there is a TV screen in front of your toddler’s seat, then turn it on and find something that your toddler would like to watch. This is unlikely to keep them entertained for long, but it might help to ensure that your toddler is happy for a little while.
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    • Although screen time is not recommended for children under the age of 18 months, children over 18 months may actually benefit from 30 minutes of educational screen time, and up to 1 hour between the ages of 2 and 3.[17]


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