I’m often asked how you can help a travelling parent. You’re sat on your own with your bags safely stored in the cabin, glossy magazine at the ready and hot drink in hand. You clock the weary parents carrying a million bags and an excitable/tired/stressed/gurgling (likely all of the above) baby, trying to navigate the busy aisle and into their seats.
You want to help, but you don’t know them and you don’t have children. Will you suddenly be lumbered with a wriggly child, worrying how you’re meant to hold them. You wonder if they’ll snap at you or be offended. You don’t know if they need or even want your help, so what can you do?
You don’t have to help or care, but either way don’t just stare. Chances are they already feel self conscious that they’re trying to precariously balance a baby, a change bag, snacks, coats and a million other things without daring to interrupt your child-free time.
You know how awkward public speaking is. A sea of eyes watching your every move. Yeah, being stared at while you’re trying to parent is like that, except you only have control over one person and it ain’t the baby!
On our way to Poland the lady on the row next to us turned her whole body so that she was facing us, pulled out her snacks and then watched us like a movie without blinking. Not at all helpful.
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Okay so you want to help, but you don’t want to offend by making the parent feel like they can’t cope. Just ask them. Ask if they want a hand. Classic British politeness will probably result in a ‘Oh, I’m okay, thanks’ and then for the next ten minutes they’ll silently beat themselves up for not saying yes. However, any awkward tension will be dispelled. You’ll feel better for being kind and they’ll feel better that you are willing to help if need be.
Carry a Bag
Babies need a lot of stuff. Offer to carry a bag or if you notice the parent is moving down the line without one of their bags, don’t point that out to everyone – they’ll feel silly and it’ll probably result in more stares. Instead bring it to them if you can or if it’s not appropriate or whatever, just quietly let them know.
This happened to me recently when I was flying to Poland. It was my first flight with a toddler and a baby and in the midst of shuffling a reluctant toddler down the line I totally forgot about my cabin case. It wasn’t until I noticed the guy behind me was pushing a very similar case that it clicked! What a gent.
Don’t sigh, swear, roll eyes…
Basically don’t act like a child. Doing any of those things are not going to make the situation any less stressful. In fact they’ll probably make it worse.
So on a more positive note, if you want to do something, give a little smile to the parent, the child or even both. Ginger from What Your Parents Did agrees with this one and says it can make a world of difference to a long flight. A smile is free and has the power to create a happy atmosphere, start a conversation and even entertain a child, which leads me to my next suggestion…
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This one comes with a slight caveat. It’s lovely when a stranger pulls a funny face at your little one and makes them belt out one of those infectious baby gurgles. A word of warning though – kids like repetition. Chances are they’ll want you to do it again and again. And again. You may lose your chance of being kid-free!
If you’re going to play the clown, try to judge the situation too. There’s nothing worse than watching your little one’s eyelids slowly close for their nap, only for them to ping wide open at the sight of seat 28B sticking their tongue out at them.
I’ve lost count at the number of times some random stranger has told me my baby is about to kick off. It usually happens during take off as they assume that the cabin pressure will result in a screaming baby.
That may be the case, but it isn’t always and whilst it gives me great pleasure to prove a moaner wrong, it does make me feel a little on edge. A happy parent makes for a happy child, so please don’t try to squash that happiness even if it is short-lived!
Let them skip
We all hate queues, but kids really, really hate them. Oh and they also have untrained bladders. If you’re not desperate for the loo and you want to help, consider letting them skip the line. Same goes for any line really. If you’re not in a rush or precious and want to minimise any potential neighbouring whinging let that tired family jump to the front.
Personally I think it’s impossible not to judge. We all make assumptions within a few seconds whether we want to or not, but you don’t need to publically air them. Tales of ‘in my days kids never did this’ or ‘you need to pay your kid more attention’ or ‘they need a good hiding’ are not helpful. At all. Keep it yourself and rant to your friends once they’re out of ear shot if you really must.
Just like adults, children can be happy one day and miserable the next. A crying child does not mean that the parent is rubbish at disciplining them. Young kids have emotions, ones that they haven’t learned to regulate yet and a tantrum is often the result of a surge of those emotions.
There are also lots of ways of disciplining a child. Ignoring bad behaviour is one of them, so don’t assume the parent doesn’t care. If it’s negative, keep your opinion to yourself. If you think the parent is doing a good job, go ahead and let them know. I’m sure it’ll make their day.
Hide your disappointment
Would you roll your eyes at a fat person or lean over to your friend to loudly tell them how much your seat neighbour smells? No. Just because someone has their hands full with kids, it doesn’t mean that they’re deaf or blind. They still have feelings.
My friend was sat next to two guys who loudly announced they’d got the short strawer (I’m politely paraphrasing) as they were sat next to her six-month old. She told me how she wanted her normally quiet son to play loudly in retaliation, so be warned your disappointment can backfire!
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Have you got suggestions to add to this list?