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Taking the Kids™

Navigating Air Travel

Phew! It took less time to get through security than you expected, but now you've got to entertain the kids in the airport as well as on the plane. No sweat--as long as you've got a well-stocked backpack at your side. Here's what you need:

  • Pencil and Paper so that you and the kids can play word games or draw funny pictures. Throw in a pad of Post-It® notes or a roll of masking tape and they can make no-mess designs wherever they're sitting.
  • Markers and a coloring book are always good bets for younger kids. Crayola® even has a no-mess finger paint, Color Wonder, that transforms from solid, colors paint into red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and violet. It comes with a special coloring book.
  • Map of the Country or where you're going so that the kids can get a sense of how far they're traveling. Try Rand McNally's Kids Map of the United States.
  • Deck of Cards so that you can teach your gang your favorite game--and they can teach you theirs.
  • Stamped Post Cards so they can write one to themselves or their dog while on the plane. If they send cards home about their adventures all along the way, they'll have a travel journal waiting when they get home.
  • Extra Long Lasting Batteries like Duracell® or Energizer® so their electronic games don't conk out mid-flight.
  • Band Aids® because they always need one when you don't have one. Get some colorful ones. When they get bored, they can play hospital with their dolls and stuffed animals.
  • Water Bottle like those durable ones from Nalgene® that come in many colors. They become souvenirs when the kids paste stickers on them from all places they've been.
  • A Book for the kids about the place you're going. Ask your local children's librarian for suggestions.
  • Healthy Snacks like fruit, dried fruit, pretzels, or granola bars. Bring sandwiches from home to avoid pricey airport spots.
  • A Surprise Gift to pull out when you get to the gate or board the plane. Bring a new book for your preschooler, an action figure for your six-year-old, an electronic game for your middle-schooler, and an iTunes gift card for your teen. On the trip home, give them that extra souvenir you told them you wouldn't buy. They'll be too busy to think about how long the trip is taking.

By: Eileen Ogintz

 

When They're Flying Solo

Every year, some 30,000 kids fly solo without their parents on Southwest. That's among the most on any airline. Many are frequent fliers who routinely wing their way between cities and parents. Others are flying to visit relatives or friends or to camp and school. Here's what parents need to know to make their flight a fun adventure rather than an ordeal:

  • Stay Cool because if you act nervous, the kids will be nervous too. If you're upbeat, they'll be enthusiastic too. Tell them how proud you are of them. Reassure them they'll be well cared for until Dad or Grandma meets them at the gate.
  • If It's Their First Time flying solo, explain how the system works, from the gate agent escorting them on board, to a Southwest Employee staying with them until they are met. Remind them to speak up if they have a problem.
  • Stash A Card in their backpack with their flight information as well as phone numbers where you can be reached as well as those meeting them. Include a back-up emergency number for a friend or relative.
  • Surprise them with a new toy, game, or book to help keep them busy during the flight. Check out Hasbro's travel games that can be played solo. Whether they're six or 16, make sure they've got enough in their backpack to entertain themselves. The Flight Attendants won't have time to play with them. Write a note saying how much you love them.
  • Avoid Hunger Pains by packing their favorite sandwhich and snack. Don't forget to include a treat or two and some gum they can chew when the plane takes off and lands to alleviate pressure on their ears.
  • Play The "What If" Game so they're prepared just in case Mom isn't there to meet them, the flight is diverted, or they feel sick. If they're old enough, give them a cell phone for the trip so they aren't out of touch. Just be sure to remind them to turn it off during flight.
  • Stuff A Sweatshirt or fleece in their backpack along with an extra tee shirt in case they need one.
  • Give A Big Hug even if they cringe.
  • Stay Put at the airport until you know their flight has taken off.

By: Eileen Ogintz

When You're Flying With a Baby

You're sure you've forgotten something, but you're weighted down with what feels like the entire nursery in your carryon bag. Welcome to air travel with a baby. It helps if the baby is happy when you fly. Try to book flights that won't disrupt their nap schedules too badly. Feed them before you board. Here's what you do need to keep your baby happy and safe on board:

  • A Seat For The Baby Yes, they can fly for free in your lap until they're two but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends that all children who fly, regardless of their age, use the appropriate restraint based on their size and weight. Children in approved restraint systems are far safer in turbulence or an accident. The American Academy of Pediatrics concurs. A baby will be a lot more comfortable in a familiar seat. You'll be more comfortable too. Under 20 pounds, they should be in a rear-facing seat; from 20 to 40 pounds in a forward-facing child restraint. Children over 40 pounds may safely use an aircraft seat belt. Read more recommendations from the FAA.
  • Infant Fares Southwest was the first carrier to offer a fare that would give parents a low-cost alternative to traveling with a lap child. Southwest's affordable infant fares are available for children less than 2 years old who occupy a seat (with an FAA-approved child restraint system) and who are accompanied by a Customer age 12 or older. Infant fares are offered on every Southwest flight. Be sure to present proof of the baby's age at check in.
  • More Clothes, Food, Diapers, and Wipes than you think you'll need. Remember, you won't be able to get diapers or formula onboard. Be prepared with an extra shirt for yourself too. Cheerios or Goldfish can be activities as well as snacks. Let the baby make a game out of putting them in and taking them out of a small plastic container.
  • A Picture Album so that he/she can look at himself/herself. Babies love looking at babies. If you're going to visit relatives or friends, include some snapshots of those you're going to see so the faces will look more familiar to the baby when you arrive.
  • Things To Play With Baby mirrors, stacking cups, and keys are always good bets.
  • Ziplock Bags for messy diapers and clothes. Keep a damp washcloth in another Ziploc bag for dirty faces and hands.
  • A Magazine just in case the baby falls asleep. If not, he'll have a lot of fun tearing it up.

By: Eileen Ogintz

 

Vacation Tips For Single Parents

Arthur Friedman may be a respected consultant with a Ph.D., but after his divorce, the Massachusetts dad found himself jumping on hotel-room beds with his kids.

"When it's two adults traveling with the kids, the kids go along as luggage," Friedman jokes. "When it's just me and the kids, we're a team and it's more fun."

The key to successful vacations for solo parents and their kids: Let the kids help decide where to go and what to do when you get there. Let them navigate, too.

"We feel such a sense of accomplishment when we get there," said Friedman, who counts on his middle schooler to read maps and direct him. "Every parent ought to travel alone with their children. It's a real opportunity."

Keep in mind:

  • It isn't necessary to give in to something that will wreck your budget for the next six months. You can have a lot of fun camping or staying in an inexpensive motel with an indoor pool.
  • It's OK to do nothing. What counts is the time together, not doing something every minute.
  • Join forces with other parents and kids. It will take some of the pressure off you to entertain the kids 24/7-and give you some adult companionship.
  • Especially if you haven't seen the kids in awhile, talk to them about where they want to go and what they want to do before you plunk down any hefty deposits.
  • Allow the kids to call or e-mail their other parent as much as they like. You don't want them to be homesick or feel guilty about having a good time.

Seven million kids under the age of 18 are children of divorce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of the kids who live with their Moms will soon be heading on vacation with Dad. Such times can strengthen parent-child relationships, Dad and experts agree, but they can also make it easier to weather a crisis.

"Those important conversations don't just happen when you want them to," says one recently divorced dad. "Being relaxed together, someplace where you're having fun, helps."

By: Eileen Ogintz

Getting a Break on a Family Vacation

The tropical weather is perfect, the sunset spectacular from the hotel balcony. You clink glasses and...

The baby starts wailing. Before you can quiet him, the 5-year old is whining that he's hungry. So much for romance on a family vacation. You put down the wine glasses and give each other that "we-spent-all-of-that-money-for-this" look of frustration.

With three kids, I know that look all too well. No one said managing romance on a vacation with the kids would be easy. It's especially tough when they're little, but the good news is it can be done.

Here's how you can take the kids and put romance back in the vacation equation.

  • The Built-In Babysitter Solution: Invite your favorite niece or nephew along on the trip so you can go off for carefree moonlight walks on the beach or candlelit dinners knowing the kids are having as much fun as you are. Opt for a condo rather than a hotel and you'll not only have plenty of room for them, a washer and dryer, and maybe a full kitchen, but you will spend less than at a hotel because you can cook some of your own meals.
  • Go the All-Inclusive Route: A growing number of resorts offer child care for babies and organized programming for toddlers, guaranteeing that you and your significant other can steal a little time for yourselves.
  • Head for the Hills: Drop the baby and the toddler at the mountain day care center for a romantic day hiking or mountain biking. Many ski resorts operate children's programs and day care in the summer as well as winter. Now where did you put those wine glasses?

By: Eileen Ogintz

Packing Smart with the Kids

The suitcase was the biggest I'd ever seen. It took up so much room in the rental minivan trunk that we had to get a taxi to take most of the other luggage to the hotel. Try telling a teen she doesn't have to bring her entire closet. This young clotheshorse certainly thought that was necessary, and it had never occurred to me to offer any guidance to my daughter's friend on what or how she should pack for the two-week trip with our family. I certainly learned my lesson.

Now I tell whoever is going what they should bring and in what size bag. Not only do I want to make sure we've got room in the trunk for everyone's gear, but I don't want to pay for overweight luggage. It's no fun either to drag suitcases full of stuff we don't need in and out of hotels where we're already in cramped quarters. That's not to say the kids always listen to my luggage proclamations. ("But I have to take three pairs of sandals!")

What happened to those days when we could manage for weeks with what was in a backpack?

Here are some helpful tips to help lighten the load (literally):

  • A Bag for Everyone will help keep the crew more organized and give the kids their own personal space-to-go. You don't need fancy luggage, though you definitely want wheels so each member of the family (yes, even the second grader) can wheel his/her own. Try an inexpensive duffel on wheels that can be monogrammed in bright colors like orange, gold, and red so the kids can easily find them on airport luggage turnstiles. Duffels are a better bet than suitcases because they crush down and won't take up as much room in the trunk if they're not full. Stash a smaller, empty (wheel-less) duffel in one of the bags for souvenirs.
  • Pack Beach and Baby Gear separately in a duffle so you'll know exactly where it is when you need it and won't be hunting through everyone's suitcase looking for that beach towel or a sippy cup. If you're traveling with a baby or toddler, consider bringing a set of their crib sheets as well as a favorite blanket and night light to help them feel more at home in a new environment. Don't forget sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses for everyone.
  • A Well Equipped first-aid and medicine kit, complete with prescription and non-prescription remedies for everything from sunburn, fever, bug bites, and scrapes. Ask your pediatrician what you should include for your children and yourselves. Don't forget tweezers (for splinters), a thermometer, and your pediatrician's phone number. Keep a mini first-aid kit in your bag or the car with bandages, antibiotic cream, acetaminophen, and antacids. In our family, we always have medication handy for motion sickness, too.
  • Ziplocs® Rule for on-the-go parents and kids. Pack underwear in one plastic Ziploc bag, socks in another, bathing suits in a third for each child. Some parents with younger children even pack entire outfits in individual bags. I always throw in a few extras for wet (and filthy) clothes.
  • Quick Dry fabrics are best, whether shirts, shorts, or pants for the kids. Encourage the kids to leave their jeans at home in favor of lighter fabrics (or just to bring one pair). Pack fleece rather than cotton sweatshirts because they not only are lighter but dry more quickly when wet. Don't forget the rain gear and an extra pair of shoes or sandals in case one gets soaked.
  • Mix and Match colors so that everything in the suitcase goes with everything else. Some savvy travelers I know opt for darker colors and patterns for the kids (they show less dirt).
  • Let the Kids Help pack so you don't get blamed if their favorite shirt or pair of sneakers is forgotten. If they're old enough, give them a list of what they need and let them make some of their own choices.
  • Got Everything? Double check the kids' bags to make sure they didn't leave out the dress shoes they need for the family wedding but packed every action figure or doll in the toy box.
  • Unless You're Going to Siberia remember you'll be able to buy extra diapers, food, tee shirts, flip flops, and whatever else you need along the way.

By: Eileen Ogintz

Getting A Sitter Away From Home

The Chicago mom of two young kids felt like she'd been let out of jail on her last vacation, sleeping late and lounging on the beach. "You can't put a price on a full week of sleeping in," she said, but they hadn't left their baby and toddler at home. Instead, they took their regular sitter with them to Florida for a week, figuring that the added cost of a plane ticket and meals were well worth the R&R time and flexibility she and her husband got in return, even to spend time with each child. "This was the first vacation with the kids that felt like a vacation," she said. "I didn't come back exhausted."

Planning for time away from the kids on a family trip is a dilemma all parents face whether their kids are toddlers or teens.

Traveling families, leery of child care providers they don't know, like best the idea of inviting an extra pair of hands along the trip--whether a teenage neighbor or cousin, a single brother-in-law, or grandparent.

Others vacation with another family with children of similar ages so they can swap child care chores. Some parents choose vacation locales that offer children's programs, but even that's no guarantee Mom and Dad will get a break. The kids might be too old or too young or they simply might balk at going. If you know you're going to need a sitter, network with friends, colleagues, and relatives in other cities to arrange in advance for sitters where you'll be visiting. Expect to pay considerably more than at home.

Hotels typically will refer guests to licensed agencies, but all that means, experts explain, is that the child care operators have met minimum state requirements for operating a business. Even if you hire a hotel employee, that's not a guarantee that the person had been thoroughly checked. All employees don't necessarily require criminal background checks, hotel executives explain. Consider asking your child's resort camp counselor, ski instructor, or tennis teacher to babysit.

If you go to the agency route or hire a sitter through the hotel, ask a lot of questions:

  • Is the agency licensed and regulated? How long has it been in business?
  • Has the sitter been screened for a criminal record?
  • How much child care experience does the sitter have?
  • Does the sitter know CPR and first aid?
  • Can you call and check the sitter's references?
  • What kinds of activities would the sitter do with the kids? How would the sitter handle an emergency?

And just as you would at home, make sure you can be reached at all times.

But what happens when the kids insist, as my older two do, that they no longer need a babysitter? The best thing is to discuss all the possibilities before you go on the trip; what the kids would do in case of fire, in case someone is banging on the door, in case they feel sick, etc. Don't make the vacation the first time they're on their own, either, or responsible for younger siblings.

If you've got any doubts at all, don't leave them, and when you do, remember to check in every once in awhile.

By: Eileen Ogintz

Touring Colleges With Your Teens

The day was beach perfect but the teens weren't anywhere near the sand. No wonder they didn't look happy. Neither did their parents as they trudged in and out of non-air conditioned dorm rooms and classrooms.

Some had been following the same routine for several days at different colleges in the area, seeing the same faces in admissions offices, motels, and inns. All of the campuses were starting to look the same, no matter what the enthusiastic tour guides said. The teens were getting testy. Parents wished they'd worn more comfortable shoes.

"Think of this as an experience you can have with your children that you don't get any other time," says Judith Brody, associate dean of admissions at Colby College in Maine, who has taken college tours with her own three children. "You can actually get to know your young person on these trips because they're not running off to soccer practice."

Nice thought but in reality, touring colleges often means racing from tour to interview, navigating hundreds of miles on unfamiliar roads, and trying to find a hotel, a restaurant that's open late (we were lucky to find takeout pizza late one night in one college town) and, of course, a campus that feels "right."

Then, kids and parents get up and do it all over again the next day, trying to get a handle on where a teen might want to spend the next four years-not to mention a big chunk of your money.

That's not counting the sticky subject of how competitive the college admissions process has become, with more students applying to more schools, 15 or 20 in some cases. Families are starting the process earlier, with parents taking a more hands-on approach, says Vince Cuseo, director of admissions at Occidental Colleges in Los Angeles, and admissions official for more than two decades. No wonder everyone was so stressed by the time they get to the campus tour.

Here's how to lower the stress quotient (at least a little):

  • Check out campuses online, then narrow down the choices.
  • Leave the younger siblings behind. They'll be bored.
  • Only visit one or, at most, two campuses a day. Don't plan more than three or four days of touring at a stretch. The schools will all start to seem the same. Bring a notebook or laptop so your teen can jot down some initial impressions after each visit.
  • Build some time into the schedule for fun. Take in a famous local site, cool off at the hotel pool, or splurge on a nice dinner.
  • Avoid the fray entirely by sending your teens on organized college tours such as the ones run by former Johns Hopkins University admissions official Bob Rummerfield. His Charleston, S.C-based company, College Visits, shepherds groups of teens from big universities to small colleges, hitting two schools a day for tours and discussions with admissions counselors.
  • Seek out a local inn or bed & breakfast near the campus (the university or college web site should have suggestions) where you can pick up lots of intelligence about the town, the campus, and the kids who go to school there.
  • Bring a college-bound friend so they can tour together. In that case, consider booking a suite so you all have more room to spread out and they will have their own TV.

Most important, keep smiling, even when you've driven four hours and your child decided he has no interested in the school. You'll both laugh about it a year from now.

By: Eileen Ogintz

Making Multi-Generation Gatherings Work

Forget about cooking for the family and washing the dishes. Skip sleeping on the lumpy sofa bed in your sister-in-law's family room. Give up trying to entertain a bunch of squabbling, impossible-to-please kids.

There's a better way to get together with the family-simply make the gathering a bonafide vacation, even if it's only a long weekend at a nearby hotel.

We're not talking huge reunions, but rather an average of seven people who want to spend time together and don't want to be responsible for housing, feeding, and entertaining the bunch. Instead, meet in Orlando, on a cruise ship, a ski resort (in summer or winter), at the beach, or your favorite city. It's as much about sharing the experience as about where you go. Here's how to make it work:

  • Everyone Onboard with the idea, whether to celebrate a special anniversary, birthday or simply the holidays.
  • Plan Ahead months, if not a year in advance, so that there are as few conflicts as possible with school, camp, and work schedules. You'll also get the best deals when you book early.
  • Designate one member of the family to be the organizer-in-chief, dealing with airlines, hotels, resorts, and cruise lines. They can negotiate group discounts.
  • Fun for Everybody is the motto. Plan to meet someplace that will offer activities for each member of the gang, whether they're two, 12, or 82. Don't expect Grandma to babysit all day either!
  • Get Wired to make planning and communicating easier. Trading information online is the quickest and most efficient way to organize a trip like this.
  • Enough Bathrooms are essential as is room to spread out and even get away from the gang. This is not the trip to skimp on space, especially for Grandma and Grandpa. Make sure there are enough cabins, hotel rooms, or condos so that everyone is comfortable.
  • Don't Forget the Kids and plan with their needs in mind, whether booking a sitter so the adults can share some time together, meeting at a resort with organized children's activities, or picking a place that holds some appeal to the teens.
  • Be Absolutely Clear as to who is paying for what. Make sure the cost is acceptable to everyone. You don't want any big surprises at the end of the trip or arguments over the dinner check.
  • Compromise Counts when the whole family is together. Maybe you'd rather stay in fancier digs. Maybe you'd rather camp. Maybe you'd rather tour Paris than take a cruise. This isn't your once-in-a-lifetime trip. It's a celebration of family.

By: Eileen Ogintz

Making Museum Going Fun

Thank goodness for the rain. Thunderstorms are even better. They're the perfect opportunity to hit a museum on vacation or at home.

The kids are already groaning at the mere mention of museum? I hear that in my house too. Don't give up. They'll change their tune when they see how many cool activities museums have for kids and their parents from Washington, DC to California. Here's how to make museum-going fun for your gang. Hopefully, they'll learn something along the way.

  • Think Hands-On and buy a family membership to your local museum or visit some 250 other major science, art, and children's museums for free. Look for special family programs and children's activity rooms. Even the Smithsonian in Washington has them.
  • Take a Virtual Tour of the museum you're going to visit so the kids can scope out the exhibits they'd most like to see. Browsing the museum's web site--often there are areas just for kids--should rev up their enthusiasm for a visit.
  • Stop at the Art Museum Giftshop when you arrive and buy postcards of the "must see" sculptures and paintings. Have a scavenger hunt to "find" the art in the museum.
  • Let the Kids Lead, and follow them to exhibits and areas of the museum that excite them whether dinosaur bones, modern art, or mummies.
  • Don't Try and See It All especially with younger children. They won't want to move from the children's area anyway. Tour one exhibit or two and when the kids' interest wanes, leave--even if you've only lasted an hour.

There will always be another rainy day.

By: Eileen Ogintz

Surviving Holiday Travel With Kids

Bah, humbug! It's the holidays and you're off to visit the relatives, weighed down with what feels like the entire nursery in your carryon bag. Your 6-year-old brought every one of his action figures in his backpack, while your teenage daughter must have packed every pair of shoes in her closet, and you have that nagging feeling that you forgot something important.

Get your game face on! Many new parents choose the holidays to make that first trip with the baby to visit grandparents. Many divorced parents put the kids on planes by themselves over the holidays. Many families fly to share the holidays with friends and family. You can do this!

 

  • Check in Online to save time, but still allow lots of extra time at the airport because security lines may be long. The more relaxed you are, the better for everyone.
  • Leave the Shoes and Belts at Home to make it easier getting through security with the kids. They have to take off their shoes and belts.
  • Explain to the little ones that their blankie or stuffed panda will have to "get their picture taken" on the scanner.  Reassure them they'll get their lovey back as soon as they're through security. Fill the kids' water bottles after you get through security.
  • Happy Babies are better fliers. Try to book flights that won't disrupt their nap schedules too badly. Feed them before you board. Wheel them right up to the plane in their stroller and then gate check it. It should be waiting when you get off the plane at your destination. Give them something to suck on for when the plane takes off or lands. That may help prevent ear pain from the changing air pressure.
  • Get a Seat for the Baby Yes, they can fly for free in your lap until they're two but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends that all children who fly, regardless of their age, use the appropriate restraint based on their size and weight.
  • Only Bring Travel-Sized Containers:  Learn more about what size containers are allowed from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
  • Keep Smiling even if your flight is delayed. Getting angry won't help the situation. Bring a portable DVD player or a laptop so the kids can watch a movie while they're waiting in the gate or the plane. Bring a favorite book to read, a deck of cards, and a pencil and pad (Hangman anybody?).

Once You've Arrived At The Relatives':

  • Grab the kids and offer to take all the cousins to a movie, playground, or nearby museum to get them out of the house--and out of everyone's hair.
  • Set the ground rules. Even if they're only in kindergarten, they can help make their beds, clear the table, and pick up their toys.

If Your Child Is Flying Solo: Please refer to our Unaccompanied Minor Page for information on our policy and procedures.

By: Eileen Ogintz

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