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Traveling with small children is immensely stressful because at any point you know that you could be the parent who is being silently (or loudly) judged by fellow travelers because their infant or toddler is having a meltdown. Literally, no one wants to be the mom of the child who screams for half of the flight. And COVID-19 has only exacerbated the anxiety of traveling parents. Over the past few months, multiple moms have made the news after they were kicked off of flights because their toddlers refused to wear masks before takeoff.

“As a father and physician I can appreciate how difficult this particular scenario is for both parties,” said Dr. Vivek Cherian, a physician at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. “As a Dad to a toddler and an infant, I’ve been on a flight or two (pre-COVID) where you’re just holding your breath and wishing for a time machine that’ll fast forward from boarding to landing, within minutes.”

Stories like these are naturally triggering for many parents. The thought of being humiliated and removed from a flight that you paid and modified your schedule for because your tot is doing what tots do is enough to put even the most level-headed mom in her feelings. But Dr. Cherian says that it’s important to look at the bigger picture.

“While at a glance, it might be insensitive, hurtful or insulting that you are kicked off a plane because your two-year-old won’t wear a mask, imagine explaining this to a person who lost their mother, father, spouse, or even child to COVID-19,” Dr. Cherian reasoned. “When you take this perspective, it’s easy to see that everything pales in comparison when it comes to death. This is why airlines are doing their best to offer us the convenience of air travel, while also preserving the health of passengers and flight crew.”

Of course, being able to see the other side of the argument does not change the predicament that many parents are in as they attempt to navigate traveling with their little ones. For this, Dr. Cherian has a few helpful suggestions.The first of which is considering driving as opposed to flying. While this may seem like an obvious suggestion, it’s likely the better option for a multitude of reasons:

“My wife and I aren’t comfortable flying just yet with our infant and toddler, so we’ve already made two road trips from Baltimore to Chicago. Is it easy? No. But it gives us much more control and provides added flexibility, which as any parent can attest is great if you have a child refusing to wear a mask or an infant that decides to have a diaper explosion.”

Parents who choose to drive should pad their travel schedules with additional time for bathroom breaks, diaper changes, and feedings. If driving is not an option, Dr. Cherian recommends using positive framing to help your toddler make positive associations with the mask ahead of your scheduled flight.

“Familiarize your child to the mask, days, or even weeks, ahead of your flight. For our son, my wife and I showed him our masks and were mindful of the language we used,” the internal medicine expert shared. “We associated wearing the mask with ‘adventures’ we’d get the chance to take outside. Start by mask-wearing for a couple minutes a day, and build up to increased time increments, with the idea that the upcoming flight is the greatest adventure ahead.

He added, “As parents, we’re all adapting to this new norm, so don’t hesitate from incentivizing your child with a new book, toy, or puzzle that they get to have on their ‘masked adventure,’ and perhaps another awaiting them at the destination.”

Have you traveled with your children since the pandemic hit? what was your experience?

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