How to keep a 4-year-old happy on a plane?

At the end of March I’m flying with my sister and her almost 4-year-old son to visit the 'rents for a week at their winter hangout in [del]Del Boca Vista[/del] Texas. (Why I am inflicting this punishment on myself, without benefit of husband to keep me sane, is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Anyway, I’d like some ideas for little auntie “surprises” I can tuck into my purse to pull out in case my nephew gets antsy during the several hours we’ll be in the air. I know his mom will bring entertainment for him, but I’m thinking it would be good to have backup to keep him happy and occupied. Something that won’t be annoying to the other passengers, so nothing electronic, I think, nor anything that makes a lot of noise. So far the only ideas I’ve come up with are little card games. Then again, I haven’t really had the time to go out looking.

Any Dopers with experience flying with this age of child have suggestions?

get him a Gameboy. They do have volume knobs, afterall…

Cloroform :wink:

For the sake of everyone else on the plane, may I suggest a dose of NyQuil? In my experience, a young child on a long plane flight will inevitably be obnoxious.

A variety of different snacks. We always packed goldfish, pretzels, fruit chews, and cereal. Pick foods that have some play value as well as food value. It’s fun to arrange and rearrange Cheerios on your tray table!

Crayons and paper. We found blank paper was better than coloring books because there were more different things you could do with it. You could have drawing contests, play tick-tack-toe, fold origami frogs, whatever.

Little figures of some kind. We alway took a zip-loc of Playmobil 1-2-3. You can act out little stories. Particularly in the dollhouse you draw on the blank paper.

Don’t take anything with little pieces. They will get lost. No legos.

have various things within quick draw reach. Gum in case the ears don’t pop on the decent. Check with his mom for what kinds of snacks/candy he can have. If you have a dvd player/laptop/fancy ipod player - make sure you’ve got a Disney movie or cartoon cued up.

games on your mobile can start to be entertaining around that age.

You can find little travel game packs for kids at the airport. Drawing kits or other keep busy type stuff for sitting in one confined seat.

Trick is to just keep stuff varied and when he gets bored of one thing, launch in with something fresh. Between you and your sister it shouldn’t be too bad.

NinjaChick - with all due respect, suggesting that a parent should drug their child for a flight because all kids are obnoxious is…well you could rephrase that at least. It’s not like kids have a monopoly on being obnoxious travellers either.

I’m with her.

If you are unwilling to drug your children till they are 18 there are some more subtle ways to go about it.

For instance, you might consider straving your children before the flight so they have an empty stomach. Shortly before the flight feed them a turkey sandwich with lots of mayonnaise on it. Turkey contains tryptophan which aids the production of serotonin which is a calming agent. The heavy fat mayo possesses and carbohydrates from the bread (feel free to add in other carbs) along with the tryptophan from the turkey add up to a natural sedative. Nothing dangerous or worrisome about it (how many turkey dinners loaded with carbs have you eaten and been fine?) and it still might not do the trick but it is a start. And do not worry about the high fat content of mayo and such. Feeding them that every day migth have issues but one meal of it before a flight isn’t even a blip on the “I’ll grow up fat” radar.

Scarlett67 - may I say how impressed I am with you for asking about this? Too many people who have children have no consideration at all for those of us who don’t have them. Yes, I know a 4-year-old is a child. I also know I am not used to being around a 4-year-old. Your consideration for both your nephew and the mental state of your fellow travelers is commendable. I only wish others in this sometimes sad world of ours were as considerate.

Actually this is good advice I also got from a guy sitting next to me once. He was telling me how once a year he takes his niece to Europe and I asked him how he managed to keep her in check on the plane. He said he just bought a pile of little knicknacks and would pull out a new one when needed. The things he had were cheap…all told, IIRC, he said the lot of them cost him less than $10 but for a young child simple things can hold their attention easily. Coloring books, crayons, silly little plastic games, goofy tourist junk in the airport…whatever. He said it works great and his niece gleefully passed the whole flight well behaved and happy everytime.

I suspect the “problem” children are the bored children more often than not.

Get the person in the seat behind him to make funny faces the whole trip. I played a funny face game with a three year old who was peering through the crack between the seats for four hours on a plane ride to Alaska. Sadly, it kept me amused as much as it did him.

What a nice man you are! I wish there was one of you on every flight I have to take, instead of some of the horrors we have encountered, like the man in the immaculate suit next to me and my nine month old son, who as soon as we sat down to begin a 14 hour flight, turned and scowled at me saying “Keep its hands off me.” That was a lovely flight.

And Ninja Chick, kids may be obnoxious awake and alert but they are far more obnoxious drugged and having a bad reaction to it. Same son at two and a half had an odd reaction to a sedative that he’d been given on the way over with no ill effects, and spent six hours SCREAMING at the top of his lungs and fighting with me every time I tried to pick him up. I spent the entire time being bitten and scratched, and he dislocated his elbow when he flung himself backwards in his effort to get away from me. I can tell you the entire plane wanted to chuck us off over Siberia, but I felt like jumping of my own accord.

As far as practical ideas go, let the kid get up and walk around every hour or so. If she is four you can let her do a couple of (careful - no bonking into sleeping people’s heads!) laps which will help her feel less antsy. And a four year old will probably enjoy word games with you or simply your undivided attention for chatting - many grownups are boring farts who fall asleep on planes.

GameBoys not only have volume controls, you can install earphones so the child, and only that child, can hear the game sounds. If your nephew has ever played something like that before, it’s a good choice. If he’ll keep earphones on and likes to watch movies, a portable DVD player (available for rent at many airports now) and his favorite discs can also help pass the time.

What does he normally like to play with? My boys were both heavily into cars at age 4 and three or four new Matchbox-sized cars were always a hit on long trips. Crayons and paper are terrific. Reusable stickers (like Colorforms - beware of the permanent kind, they may end up on the tray table instead of in the sticker book). Picture books. Silly Putty - not Play-Doh, which sticks to things and makes a mess, but an egg of good old squishy Silly Putty. A small Slinky (which will get hopelessly tangled). Cards and travel-sized games can be good too if he has any favorites. Wrap stuff up so he spends some time unwrapping it. And on long flights, I think it’s perfectly okay to use food as entertainment - a mix of Cheerios, a chocolate-flavored cereal or M&M type candies, and raisins makes “Travel Gorp”, which is great fun for the kids and takes time to eat.

I’m generally against giving kids drugs for the flight, for practical reasons. Some kids get jittery and nervous instead of sleepy. Others get just drowsy enough that what would otherwise be a fun adventure gets scary and hard to cope with. Entertainment works better.

Maybe some string, to teach them the game cat’s cradle? Make sure they will have something to help their ears, I don’t think decongestant is advised because of the dry air in flight, so look into something chewy, to help. I would say probably not gum, but something that takes vigourous chewing along the lines of gum. (I mean rubbery as opposed to hard like granola.)

Another thing might be some printouts of favorite children’s show characters to color, or maybe paper dolls or some kind of sticker or other activity book? I bet there are pages you can print out from their favorite shows or movies online, I know Nickelodeon provides such things, so does Disney, or they did.

Here, Nick Jr., Disney Magic Artist Family Fun (has mazes etc., and coloring pages) and Crayola are some I found.

Arrive at the airport 2 hours early and spend the entire time chasing your nephew up and down the terminal. By the time the flight takes off, you’ll be too exhausted to care if he’s bothering anyone.

Seriously, unless it’s an early a.m. flight, what you do before the flight is as important as what you do during the flight. Expecting a 4 year old to sit still for 5 hours after taking a nap is far different than expecting a 4 year old to sit still for 5 hours after spending the morning at the park.

I also found some kinda neat airplane pages to print and color from Boeing. There are mazes on that site too. I second the idea of tiring the little guy out beforehand, so he’ll be more open to the idea of sitting still and coloring etc. He’ll still need walking breaks though.

[SUB]On a side note, I found a really cool botannical site with realistic flowers you can print out to color. [/SUB]

I have a 3 and 5 year old and drugs (benedryl, Nyquil, etc) are a no-no, as they sometimes have a paradoxical effect of making them either wired or nauseus. My kids LOVE their leapster but GameBoy is too advanced for a 4-year old. DVDs work great in a car-ride for my kids, but they get bored in planes wit their DVD movies. I am flying in May and will have lots of finger-snacks, lots of crayons and coloring books, mazes and age-appropriate book-based games, and kids Tylenol, just in case. Oh, and 2 changes of clothes because one time they both puked twice.

Of course, if natural developmental curiosity strikes, I hope to hook my 6-year old up with an opposite sex playmate and start a “playing doctor mile-high club”…

First off go easy on the sugary snacks.
Secondly if he gets out of control let him go play outside for a while.

The good thing about having three kids is we take up the center row. :smiley: I do pity the people on our next 14 hour transpacific flight with 20 month old toddler twins and a rambunctious 6 year old. The toddler stage is the worst as they really don’t understand what flying is all about and have lots of energy to burn.

One thing nice about flying on one of the chinese airlines is that people like kids. Stewardesses and passengers go out of their way to be helpful. Volunteering to hold babies for hours, and you don’t get nasty comments or shooting daggers with their eyes when babies act like well babies on a plane. I prepare for the flights, spend the entire flight handling the kids (it really gets fun when after a 14 hour flight misses the connection in LAX and you’ve got to wait 4 hours before getting on the last leg).