Assist! How Can I Assist My Toddler Put on a Masks on a Airplane?

“The pilot actually apologized for what happened to us,” Ms. Davis said on a phone call last week. He said, ‘This is technically our policy so the flight attendant is unlikely to be reprimanded for not technically doing anything wrong. But most flight crews have enough common sense to know that you can’t force a 2 year old to do something they don’t want to do. ‘“

Same airline, same airport, same (masked) parent, same (unmasked) toddler: two profoundly different experiences. While Ms. Davis believes she was an anomaly – “I think most of the time it would probably be fine,” she said – her experience underscores the power of uncontrollable variables (a flight attendant’s mood; the vicissitudes of toddlerhood).

Because of this, your second question is crucial: What can parents do to proactively mitigate risk?

As a mother, I’m hardly an expert in child development, as my nightly battles over vegetable consumption show. So I spoke to Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and co-author of No-Drama Discipline, The Whole-Brain Child, and several other parenting books.

“First of all, don’t wait until the day of your flight to put the mask on your 2-year-old,” said Dr. Bryson. “Since our brains are wired to protect us, anything new and not good to the touch can trigger a large reactive response.”

Before the flight, Dr. Bryson adopted the “Name it to Tame it” approach that she and co-author Daniel J. Siegel introduced in “The Whole-Brain Child”. This method includes preventive discussions about what is in stock (the plane will fly very quickly, your daughter will see people wearing masks, sometimes masks are uncomfortable, yada yada). Dr. Bryson also recommended taking up the game (e.g. masking a favorite stuffed animal) and purchasing different types of masks (those that tie around the head, those that wrap around the ears).

“You may be excited about a particular pattern, but also think about the fit and how it results in different sensory input,” she said of mask selection. “There’s a good chance you start to pester them, so I’d have another option that feels different.”

All of these preps sound fine and good by the time you’re on the plane with a toddler, which was very nerve-wracking even back in time. Suppose you are in flight and are rapidly approaching Tantrum City. The key, Dr. Bryson, is not telling children to calm down or control themselves. (Easier said than done, I know.)

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