The chance of embarrassing toddler tantrums while traveling is enough to discourage a parent from embarking on an international flight, a shared tour, or a long trip in general.

It’s bound to happen on a trip. Routines are turned upside down, sleep is thrown off, and diets change. When I am tempted to skip an experience at risk of a public scene, I remind myself it could just as easily happen at my home grocery store so just “GO FOR IT!” Don’t be discouraged by would MIGHT happen. All you can do is be prepared for diffusing if it does.

Included in This Post:

  • What Makes Toddlers Less Likely to Have a Tantrum While Traveling
    • Understanding Emotional Buckets
    • More Tips to Preventing Toddler Tantrums While Traveling
  • Toddler Tantrums While Traveling by Plane
  • Responding to Toddler Tantrums While Traveling

All in all, we noticed that our toddlers are far better behaved when we are on vacation than when we are in our home town simply running errands. I believe it is because we are much more present without distractions of housework and the daily grind.

Here’s What Makes Toddler Less Likely to Have a Tantrum While Traveling

We are ultra mindful of the tips below when we travel and believe it makes a world of difference in our toddler’s behavior.

Fill their Emotional Buckets

I can’t recall where I first heard about psychiatrist Alfred Adler’s concepts of kids’ having emotional buckets, but it really resonated with me. Essentially, it boils down to the belief that children have two emotional buckets. When they act out, it is a call for help that one of their buckets is nearing empty.

When we are dialed in on these, it’s a better day for all of us.

Bucket #1 – Belonging and Significance (AKA The Attention Bucket)

At home or out for errands, we get a lot of whining, obvious cries for attention. Behind the whine he is saying, “Mom, I have this really exciting game for us to play, but you’re too distracted cleaning.”

When we travel though, the trip is usually about the kids and we are especially intentional of enjoying every moment with them.

Keep the Attention Bucket Full

  1. Engage in everything they are doing.
  2. Tell them what you planned for the day because you knew THEY would like it
  3. If you are talking to someone and they are trying to tell you something, use the line, “I’m talking to dad right now, give me one moment please because I want you to have my full attention. Thank you for being patient” This sentence really works wonders to buy 45 -60 seconds of patience.
crop kids with halloween buckets for candies
Photo by Charles Parker on

Bucket #2 – Power and Independence

Keep the Power Bucket Full

  • Talk about the day’s plans a lot so nothing feels like a complete surprise. My toddler gets pretty thrown by surprise activities lately. Like many his age, he thrives with routine so this mental preparation makes a big difference.
  • Patiently let them do things for themself and say, “let me know if you need any help.”
  • Give them LOTS of decisions to make:
    • Where do you want to go next, a fountain or a huge tower?
    • Should we have Fish or Tacos for dinner?
    • Hmm, how would you [solve X problem]?

More Tips for Preventing Toddler Tantrums While Traveling

  1. Cut back on Sugar Intake
    Too much sugar is a recipe for a cranky crash, a poor night’s sleep (Liam gets nightmares if he has sugar too close to bedtime), and stomach aches. This took us a few trips to figure out, as it is so tempting to treat ourselves to taffy, ice cream, donuts, hot chocolate, etc. while on vacation.
  2. Check our Own Moods
    If we are on edge, it rubs off on the kids. Not calm? Fake it till you feel it.
  3. Naps are King
    I never understood how parents could be so fanatical about naps until I had a 2 year old of my own. We try to take a walk that will put both boys to sleep in the early afternoon. Then we take advantage of a golden hour or two to grab a drink together, or stroll an art museum with peace and quiet.

Do Not Fear Toddler Tantrums While Traveling by Plane

Flights are rarely as bad as we prepare ourselves for. Keep in mind that…

  1. You’ll never see those people again
  2. Most of them have been in your shoes at one point in their life (or they will be)
  3. People are rooting for you! Just keep your cool and do what you can.
I’ve had my moments.

By the time our oldest turned two, he’d been on over 20 flights. Of all of them, there was only ONE nightmare journey. That’s less than a 5% chance (per child) of an exhausting and stressful experience.

He wanted to be up and walking around on his own, independently untethered, and each time the fasten seatbelt sign came on, another battle ensued.

Flight attendants’ interactions were miracle distractions and they offered both of us a free drink to help calm our own nerves while traveling.

Like clockwork, our kids tend to fall asleep at the moment the planes’ wheels touchdown. Gah!

Responding to Toddler Tantrums While Traveling

You’ve done your best to avoid a tantrum, but things escalated before you even saw it coming! Here are some suggestions that have worked for us to diffuse a meltdown.

  1. We don’t “give in” just to appease a tantrum. We sit with them, ask if they could use a hug or want to be held, and then wait it out. The Attention Bucket gets some love. This might mean sitting ont he floor of a shop with them til its over.
  2. We empathize. “I know it is hard to hear no, but let me tell you why…”
  3. Ask what they want to do next, offering two options. This helps to refill the Control & Independence Bucket.
Toddler Tantrums while traveling

I hope this post provided you with some preventing and coping mechanisms for your next uncomfortable toddler tantrum while traveling! It took me a long time to stop caring what passersby thought of my parenting in those difficult moments, but I know what is best for my kids and so do you!

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