Ask the expert: Help, we are flying with our 3½-year-old twin girls

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The key to managing the trip is to map out the different stages of the journey for them and make each one of these an exciting adventure. Photograph: iStockphoto

The key to managing the trip is to map out the different stages of the journey for them and make each one of these an exciting adventure. Photograph: iStockphoto


Q We are parents of two energetic 3½-year-old twin girls. We are due to travel with them to Italy to see their grandparents (my wife is Italian) and I am not looking forward to the flight. We went six months ago and it was a disaster. Going through security took ages and they were cranky and tired. While one was throwing a tantrum, the other ran through the metal detector causing a fuss on the other side. I was terrified we were going to lose her. When I finally got my hand on her, she burst out laughing as if it was all a joke. I was so cross. That set the tone for the whole flight. What can we do this time to help things go better?

A Travelling with young children is stressful at the best of times and with twins who can spark off one another it can definitely be double trouble. Airports, with the potential for long delays and long queues as well as open spaces and unhelpful distractions, can be a particular challenge for the travelling family. And this is even before you get on the confined space of a plane for an extended period with the increased potential for boredom and tiredness.

It is no wonder that it is frequently a fractious experience for children and their parents who may be already stressed by the pressure of complex holiday preparations for a family.

Below are some tips for making the journey less stressful.

Plan out the stages

Young children find it hard to manage the stages of the trip. Usually they are excited by the holiday and want to get there immediately. Before you even have got to the airport they are asking “Are we there yet?”

The key to managing this is to map out the different stages of the journey for them and make each one of these an exciting adventure (or at least more bearable or interesting to a pre-schooler). For each stage, think of something your twins could be doing that might interest them. For example:

Packing: They could pack their own bag with some books, games and snacks.

Taxi: Playing ‘I spy’ games.

Airport: Help load the trolley and push it to the check-in desk.

Airport: Have a snack and look at the planes. n

Airplane: Play some games, read a book, watch a movie, have a nap. nItaly: Meet granny at the airport.

It helps to have lots of different options to entertain them such as comics, cards, books and snacks, some of which can be used to motivate good behaviour: “If you are good and hold Mummy’s hand as we go through security, then you can have a look at the comic on the plane.”

Do up a picture schedule

If you have time, it can help to do up a little picture book with your children that lists the different stages on the journey as a set of pictures that you can hold onto as you go through the day, folding the pages as you progress: “Let’s see in the book what we have to do next,

oh, it is time to get the bags, can you help?” You don’t have to be good at drawing for this to work, simple match stick men with a word or two describing what is happening is enough (in the taxi, and so on).

Alternatively, you can look up the internet for some good pictures that can act as a guide. There are also a variety of children’s books that explain new social experiences, that you could read to them in advance of the trip to prepare them. For example, Topsy and Tim go on an Areoplane (who are also twins). These books help children understand the stages of the trip and to pace themselves as they go.

Anticipate flash points

Plan out how you might deal with potential flash points that might be en route such as queuing for security and going through the metal detectors. In these situations, it helps to be organised about what is happening (who is carrying each bag, and so on) and then to keep the children focused on what they need to do. Avoid saying things like “Don’t go running off” (which can put the idea into their head) and instead say what you want them to do: “We are going to hold hands and chat in the queue,” and “Then at the metal detector, you walk through by yourself and Daddy waits on the other side,” and so on. Trying to be positive and upbeat at these pressure times really helps.

In addition, you may consider doing up a picture book for the process if it is particularly challenging. I once worked with a parent of a pre-schooler who was terrified of going through the metal detector.

The parent did up little pictures of the boy holding Mum’s hand, then walking through the detector (holding his teddy for moral support) and then waiting with the guard at the other side as Mum walked through which. You may not need this level of detail in your own situation but clearly focusing your kids on what is happening next is a great idea.

Plan for challenging situations

Despite the best preparation, it is unlikely that everything will be plain sailing and it is important to plan for how you will respond to challenges. For example, think through what you will do if one of the twins gets very whingey or if they throw a tantrum.

In these situations you might have a few special distractors in your bag or simply have a plan as to how you will soothe or calm them. Often the most important thing is to try to manage your own stress in these situations. The more calm you can be, the easier it will be to cope. In preparing the trip, do whatever you can that will help you feel relaxed on the journey as well as the children.

Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus programmes. His new book, Bringing Up Happy, Confident Children: A practical guide to nurturing resilience, self-esteem and emotional well-being, is now available. See for details.