If you have a 1-2 year old, it will come as no surprise to you that all children in this age range have very short attention spans. Constantly moving from one activity to the next, it's hard to keep them still or satisfied for more than a minute or two.
The late child psychologist Dr. Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., wrote fascinating and helpful books about child behavior and development from 1-14 years old. In her eye-opening book "Your One-Year-Old," Dr. Ames provides an illustration of "Seven clocked minutes of nursery school behavior at different ages." In this figure below, Dr. Ames shows 8 different stations in a nursery school and how the typical child at 18 months, 2 years, 2.5 years, 3 years, and 4 years behaves in the setting.
As you can see, the 18 month old is incredibly busy. She is moving about from station to station without any rhyme or reason, back and forth, up and down, all around. She. Is. Busy. If you have an 18 month old, you are most likely exhausted. Please take a load off, sit down, and keep reading.
As the child grows, she is able to focus her attention for longer periods of time. As you can see in the figure above, the difference in attention spans and general business between 2 years and 2.5 years is quite impressive. By the time the child is 3 and 4 years of age, they can focus on one task for quite a long time.
So, what does this mean for travel?
Well, if you are traveling with an 18 month old, I feel for you. This trip is going to be a lot of work. Because your child is unable to focus on one object or task for more than a minute, you are going to need quite a few tricks up your sleeve and multiple toys stashed in your ( or their!) carry-on.
Try to find toys that are multi-functional/ can be used in many ways. Toys that involve taking multiple small items out of a container and putting them back in are great for developing fine motor skills. We suggest packing their Little Traveler Carry-On backpack (Coming in May 2018) with lots of exciting new toys. Help them zip and unzip the compartments and pull items out one at a time.
Dr. Ames also points out that the 15 month old's "motor drive, need to grab, and lack of inhibition make the child of this age at least a modest menace unless he is so restrained." Translation --> You may want to spring for an extra seat on the plane and bring the car seat along if you've got a long flight ahead of you.
The car seat is familiar, your son/daughter has likely fallen asleep in their car seat many a time, and if they're strapped down from the beginning they won't know what they're missing out on (jumping and wiggling and putting everything in their mouths, and wanting to crawl on the floor, and pulling on the seat in front of them, and so on and so forth).
The 2 - 2.5 year old is still in need of constant handling. Not quite a 3 year old, your terrific 2 year old still can't hold their attention on any 1 task for very long. Now that they're no longer a "lap child," they're entrusted with the responsibility of having their own space. Make this special for them. If the flight attendant hasn't already supplied a blanket and pillow, ask for them. The novelty of flying is brand new for your little traveler. Show them how their seat works, the seat belt, the window shade, all of the things stashed inside of the seat-back pocket, the air vent, the light switch, etc. etc. Make flying an event again.
Think of your travel days as a great opportunity to engage with your children. We sometimes forget that these often hectic days are big events for our children with a new schedule, new surroundings, new people, new loud noises. If we change our frame of mind to think of the travel day as an event, rather than something just to get through, we may find a little more peace in the journey. Well, peace and a cocktail. You should definitely order a drink for yourself.
What do you think? Does Dr. Ames' depiction of 18 month olds - 4 year olds ring true for you? How do you manage your little one on short and long flights, or on road trips? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!