Category Archives: Top Tips

An Agnostic’s Guide to Answering Your Children’s Questions About Death

 

Talking about death to children is not an easy thing to do – far harder than teaching the facts of life! But how do you approach it when you are not sure of your own answers? I have tried to put together the worries and questions my children had, and how my husband and I, as agnostics, approached the answers.

I remember the first time my children came in contact with the death of an animal. We were taking our dog for a walk one day when they were four years old and came across two frogs on the road that had been run over by a car. As far as an introduction to death is concerned, it was gentle enough, being animals that they weren’t attached to, but also rather gruesome as they were very flattened and there was some blood.

I tried to avoid the area around the frogs, but it was too late – they had seen and were instantly fascinated.

“What’s that, mummy?”

I couldn’t do anything but be honest, “Those are two frogs that have been run over.”

“Are they dead?”

“Yes.”

After that, many more questions started about death, and continued for months. They made that leap that I had been dreading, which was to ask if humans die, and if they would die. And, of course, if I would die. Every question ended up cutting me to the quick, as I felt that this knowledge of death was a loss to their innocence much more significant than any talks about where babies come from. My main problem, of course, was that the questions they were asking were questions that plague me, and for which I don’t have a clear answers.

If I had a strong faith, I think the questions would bother me a lot less. Equally, if I were a confirmed atheist I would probably not have too many qualms about saying that your time on earth is all there is. But I am neither of those things. I’m a wishy-washy, undecided, befuddled agnostic. But I am also someone used to giving straight answers to my children’s questions. So here are some of the questions I was asked, and the way my husband and I chose to answer them.

My children were between the ages of four and six when the burst of questions came, and so we gave answers that we felt were appropriate for that age. We based them loosely on a foundation of religious belief, while not sticking to any particular religious doctrine.  We mostly made it up as we went along. We decided that since we don’t know for a fact what happens after death, we may as well make it sound pleasant!

What happens after you die?

I knew that I couldn’t possibly raise them with the idea that there was nothing after you die. For me, the idea that you would cease to exist was too frightening a concept to give a young child, even if it is what I fear may be the reality. It makes for a much more gentle introduction to death to say that it isn’t exactly the end, just the end of one state and the beginning of another. Who is to say that’s not the truth?

The next question what exactly do we say is on the other side? We had been raised Catholic, so heaven was the most natural recourse we came to, rather than reincarnation. I was raised with the idea of heaven but no hell, so that was what I went with. My husband and I decided to paint a very traditional view of heaven, as a beautiful and magical place that was accepting of all beings – human, animal, insect. Just beware of making it sound too enticing, as my children started getting the idea that they really wanted to go to heaven right now! I explained to them that it was a place that you can’t visit – once you are there you have to stay. (This message got a little confused when they thought they had already been to heaven; it transpired they had confused a glimpse of the afterlife with a lovely holiday in Devon!)

Does your body go to heaven?

The differences between my children became very evident during our conversations about death. My son took everything at face value, and was entirely satisfied by my answers.  My daughter, on the other hand, would mull over everything I said, and kept coming up with some new questions to ask:

“Did the frogs go to heaven?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied.

“But they were on the road. How did they go to heaven?”

And so began the next phase: the soul. I actually feel that this is the central part to an agnostic’s answer about death. I don’t believe in any one religion. I don’t feel comfortable teaching my children a particular religious doctrine, because I don’t believe in it. But the idea of a life force is something that I would like to believe in. Who’s to say that it doesn’t exist? The concept of a God doesn’t even need to come into it.  So I feel safe to tell my children that they have a life force, or soul, that exists beyond just their body.

This answer, which I felt quite proud of, actually freaked out our daughter rather a lot.

“But I want my body!”

So we decided to say that you get a new body in heaven, and it can be whatever body you want. She was determined that she would feel different as it wouldn’t be her original body. I tried all sorts of approaches to help with this: your body changes all the time, but you don’t notice it (new skin cells, hair growth), you’re already growing all the time, becoming a grown-up and you don’t mind that. But nothing helped. This went on for weeks and months, especially at bed-time. Eventually we realised that what she was afraid of was the fact her normal body would be left alone on earth. She asked me if I would be in the same grave (or, to use her words, gravy) as her. I said “yes, of course” and she was completely reassured by that, and hasn’t mentioned it again!

I’m worried heaven doesn’t really exist

This was something that my son asked. He is much less ready to believe in things that he doesn’t see, he questioned the existence of Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy from a very young age, so this was another on his list.

In this area (unlike for Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy!) I decided to be fairly honest early on. I told them that in fact no one has been to heaven and back again, because it’s not a place you visit, so it isn’t something that anyone has seen. However, what happens is different people believe different things about what happens when you die (I mentioned reincarnation – they weren’t convinced!) and that it’s a question of what you feel not what you know.  They both seemed to be happy with that answer – one because he thought there probably wasn’t, but it didn’t bother him, and the other because she felt there was, which she found reassuring.

I don’t want to go to heaven without you

This one was a heartbreaker. Another from my daughter. I made it simple and said that I would be there waiting for her, to which she then replied “I don’t want you to go to heaven before me.” This then became the idea that upset her a lot, which of course is a common fear for children. We told her that we had to go a bit before her to get her room in heaven ready for her. She was still troubled by it, and in the end we just told her that we would only go when she was happy for us to go and get her room ready when we are all very, very old. It was reassuring enough, and hopefully by the time it becomes an issue we really will be very old!

Are there baddies in heaven?

This is the problem when you don’t want to introduce an idea of hell! Of course I said “no” but then my son asked, “but where do the baddies go when they die? Do they go to a baddie heaven which isn’t nice?” I found it incredible that they had made up hell all by themselves! We were very firm that we were not going to introduce any concept of hell, as it just creates fear and guilt. I told him no, there is not a baddy heaven. What happens is that when the baddies die they are able to realize that what they did on earth was bad and so they become good. “But what if they don’t become good?” I simply said that they all do, because you understand a lot more when you die.

A little note on prayer

My daughter was upset when my parents’ dog Aramis died, and told me that she was going to miss him, and wished she could tell him that she missed him.  I’ve also talked about my grandmother, and she said how she wished she could have met her. I therefore brought in the idea of prayer – I told her that you can say a prayer to those who have died, and tell them all that you want to.  I also told them it was a good time to say thank you for all the good things that have happened in the day. I think regardless of any religious belief, it’s a good opportunity for reflection, and is reassuring to feel you still have a link to people (or pets!) that you miss. I have over-heard my daughter on many occasions saying her prayers by herself:

“Good-night grannie, good-night Aramis, good-night squashed frogs…”

 

 

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Encouraging a Reluctant Reader – Top 10 Tips:

girl-160172_1280I am writing here from the experience of having been a reluctant reader as a young child myself and from having a seven-year-old without much natural enthusiasm for reading. Her twin, on the other hand, loves it, so I know that parents are in no way wholly responsible for their child’s loveof reading. There are just a few ways in which you can ensure you leave the door open to your child one day loving to read.

I am going to assume that you know the basics of making sure you have lots of books at home, that you read every day to your child (with enthusiasm!) and that you have books that interest your child. Beyond that, here are my Top 10 Tips:

 

1. Work out why they are reluctant

The most likely reason your child is reluctant to read is because they find it an effort. Talk to their teacher if you have any specific concerns, but a child can find reading hard work even if they have no learning difficulty. Just make sure there are no other obvious reasons why they might not enjoy it: negative responses from others, feeling pressured, eyesight problems, over-tiredness, or being given books that are either too challenging or too easy. Also, think about what times of day they are reading – are they well-fed, well-rested, and have had a chance to play? For some children it’s just that reading is not high on their list of priorities when there are far more fun activities they can imagine doing instead!

2. Be enthusiastic

I can’t emphasise this enough. The most important role you can have in this is to encourage and praise your child when they read, especially if it is a big effort for them. Try to remain enthusiastic even when progress seems slow. You may not be able to make your child love reading, but you can help them avoid hating it.

3. Change the location

Go to the park, sit on a picnic blanket in the garden, read at the library. Just change the scene.

4. Have someone else listen to your child read

A visiting family member, a family friend, a patient older cousin… Anyone who will be non-judgemental and encouraging. Get them to say something like, “Mum tells me what an amazing reader you are. Can you read me a story?” Small children can also be a good choice, as your child might enjoy the role reversal, but be aware that little ones have a limited tolerance for slow readers and so this can backfire.

5. Use soft toys as listening companions

I pretend my kids’ toys are whispering in my ear that they want to be read to. Get them to be interactive, and every so often have them respond to the story – jump with excitement, hide behind a cushion in fear, look closely at a picture… Illiterate furry animals who fall down in amazement when your child reads a particularly challenging word also go down a treat.

6. Wear a silly hat

Well, not specifically a silly hat, but do something fun when it’s time to read. Say that whoever reads a book gets to wear the hat, sit on the special cushion, read under the table… Whatever it is that you think your child will find surprising or amusing. Novelties wear off, so think of new ones. The wonderful thing about kids is that it doesn’t even have to be that imaginative. If you say it’s special, and demonstrate it yourself, they will want to copy you. I once just put a scarf on the back of my chair and said it was the “special red reading chair” and my twins were arguing over who could sit on it first!

7. Don’t feel limited to books 

Any reading is good reading. It could be that your child might prefer to read something other than stories – this is often particularly true for boys. Try comics, junior magazines, toy catalogues, reading apps, kids’ websites – my son loves the Lego site. Even if they only manage to read a few words, and the a lot of the time is spent looking at pictures or playing a game, the important thing is that they are associating good feelings with having to read words.

8. Let them read below their assigned level sometimes

It can be tempting to keep pushing, especially when you see the glimmer of progress, but let them read books that they can read confidently if they want to. After all, many adults like to indulge in an easy-read. The general rule of thumb is children should know 9 out of 10 words in a book they are reading, but it can be a nice break for them occasionally to read something where they know every word. It’s also a good reminder for them to see how a book they once found hard has become easy for them.

9. Keep it varied

If you can take away one tip from me, this is it. If your child finds reading burdensome, making the act of reading repetitive and unchanging only makes it worse. I know lives are busy, and you can’t make reading a special experience each time, but every so often try one of the different suggestions I’ve made – cycle through them. If you feel you have got into a rut and either you or your child are dreading reading together, make a change. It’s refreshing, and will prevent forming on-going bad associations with reading for both of you.

10. Be patient

Reading involves a lot of different skills that need to come together in order to make sense out of the written word. Some children pick this up quickly, while others need more time. With good teaching and encouragement they all get there. I didn’t enjoy learning to read as a child but when I grew up I loved studying literature, worked in publishing for a while, and now writing is my hobby! A slow start doesn’t have any bearing on what kind of reader your child will be as they grow up.

 

How to appreciate your children’s childhood

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

So often I hear people with older or grown-up children say to me “appreciate this time – it’s so precious, and over so quickly.” I tend to reply, “Oh, I do.” But what does it really mean to “appreciate” it, and how do we make sure we are? My twins are growing up so quickly I can feel time slipping through my fingers, I wish that I could slow it down. I think to myself if I can’t do that, I can at least make sure that I am appreciating every moment. This occasionally becomes an almost obsessive concern where I feel that I must cherish this time so that when they are grown up I can look back and feel that I really made the most of their childhood. And then I see the state of their bedroom, or I find the sofa covered in Lego pieces and I confess appreciation stops being at the forefront of my mind. However, when I see them fast asleep, still curled up the way they did as babies, I wish that I could hold onto every precious moment. The problem is it’s much easier to think that when they are unconscious.

Occasionally I might read a news article, or hear a terrible story about some tragedy involving children, and I find it can affect me deeply. I imagine myself in those situations, and I tell myself to be so grateful for all that I have. I hug my children a little tighter, and remind myself not to get stressed about things that don’t really matter. I certainly do appreciate what I have at those times. While I think it is a very good thing to remember how lucky we are, tragic-thinking induced appreciation (for want of a more eloquent description!) is an exhausting and anxiety-inducing state to live in. It is also very hard to hold on to day-to-day as mundanity takes over your life. I also feel that it’s a self-defeating method, as part of my brain is clearly thinking some dark and nightmarish thoughts while I am busy “appreciating” how wonderful my children are. Surely there is a better way of making the most of this time?

I don’t claim to have found the answer, but these are the thoughts and ideas I have had on the subject:

Don’t get too hung up on it

A couple of hundred years ago people probably didn’t concern themselves too much about whether they were appreciating their children’s childhood, they were just hoping the mother survived childbirth and the offspring survived infancy. It’s likely still the case in many parts of the world. Remember that “appreciating” childhood is what we get when we’re not worrying about basic survival.

Put the iphone down from time to time 

The main way I feel I end up not appreciating time fully is when I get distracted. It’s so easy when you have a smartphone to be sending a text, checking an email or just generally browsing in a dazed “I just need to zone out for a few minutes” way. The trouble is you may look at the phone to find the answer to a question the children have just asked, but then notice there’s an email or text that’s come in, and start checking that as well. Sometimes you just need to put it down and not look at it. Designate phone-free times of the day. We now have a rule of no phones at the table, so mealtimes are just for conversation. I also try to ignore any texts coming in if I’m in the middle of an activity with the kids.

Indulge in mundanity

I feel guilty sometimes that I’ve wasted my time on things that aren’t really important. But recently, I’ve started to look at it differently: you are always going to waste a certain amount of time on things you later think don’t really matter. That’s one of the perks of not being constantly aware of time ticking away in your life. If you live in a constant state of “appreciation”, you will exhaust yourself. Those who feel they can afford to waste some time on things that don’t matter too much are lucky. But…

Once in a while try to reset the clock

Occasionally just stop and reflect on how you spend your time with your children, and make tweaks accordingly. Make sure that you don’t put those things that matter to you (or to them) at the bottom of the to-do list everyday. I also find it very easy to get into bad habits, whether it’s being distracted by my phone, or getting constantly bad-tempered trying to get the kids out to school on time in the morning. Think about how you could do things differently to break whatever habits you have got into. Acknowledge that this will have to be a repeated process (unless you are more disciplined than I am) as bad habits are so much easier to keep than good ones.

Experience it all

Not all parts of parenting are enjoyable. Some of it is just plain hard work. You can’t love all of it. I know that there are whole chunks of the first year of their lives that I truly can’t say that I appreciated. Sleep deprivation is simply not something I ever cherished and I was relieved when the worst of it came to an end. Does that mean I was wishing away their childhood? Partly, but only because I am a normal human being who reacts to sleep-torture in a healthy “I want it to end” sort of way. But while I hated that aspect, I adored the first smiles, giggles, kisses and discoveries not to mention the softness of baby skin. Being a parent includes feeling exasperated, exhausted, frustrated, and irritated on a fairly regular basis. That’s a true parenting experience. But if you manage to feel all of that, and still find joy when they run up for a cuddle, or overcome a fear, or reach a new milestone, then you really are appreciating the wonder of their childhood.

Decoding your child’s school day

confused

“We basically did nothing all day.”

I think it’s a fairly universal truth that it is hard work to find out from your children what exactly they have done all day at school. If you do manage to extract something more than a “nothing” or an “I can’t remember”, there can still be obstacles. Here is a fairly typical conversation I had with my daughter when I picked her up from school the other day:

Her: “They said I was ok mummy”

Me: “Who said you were ok?”

Her: “The lady in the office.”

Me: “Why were you in the office?”

Her: “Bailey took me.”

Me: “Why did Bailey take you?”

Her: “Because you take someone with you when you go to the office.”

Me: “But WHY WERE YOU THERE?!?”

Eventually it transpired that she had had a sore throat, but that the “lady in the office” had decided it was mild enough to wait till home time.

A parent’s impression of their child’s school day can be rather nebulous, and so I thought I would share a few techniques I’ve developed to get a bit of a firmer idea of what their school day is like.

1.  Ask the right questions

I can’t emphasise this one enough. If you ask a completely open question like “How was your day?” or “what did you do today?” you are opening yourself up to “fine” and “I can’t remember.” Most children, and some adults too, draw a blank when they are asked such a broad question. They can probably only conjure up what they did in the last couple of minutes, and that’s only with a fairly attentive child. You should only expect answers that are as good as your questions.

2.  Be specific 

Here are some examples of more closed questions that may get you a better answer:

Who did you sit next to at lunch today?

What game did you play at playtime?

Who makes you laugh in your class?

What was your favourite part of today? (A bit open, but sometimes works)

Is there anyone you don’t like to play with?

What book did your teacher read to you today?

If you’re lucky, this will be an opener for a conversation that will end up providing you with a lot more detail. Your child is more likely to remember and recount events when it’s part of a natural conversation.

3.  Ask about what interests them

For a lot of children, this is often playtime! Asking about what spellings they worked on and what they learnt in maths might not be the most scintillating conversation for your child, and they may not make much effort to remember. This may be what you want to find out, but if there is something specific about their learning you want to know, I recommend asking the teacher. So ask about the games they played, who they like to sit next to, who brought the tastiest snack, and who is the cheekiest child. You’ll end up learning a lot about their social groups, and how well they are fitting in.

4.  Do your research

If you do want to know a bit more about what is happening in the classroom, then do a little research on the subject. Find out about the class’s timetable, what themes or activities your children are working on, and which teachers they are working with. Hopefully the school will have already provided you with a lot of this information, but if not, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Then think of specific questions related to it, eg “Did you start your nature picture in art today?” or “which instrument did you play in music?”

5.  If you can, volunteer

This is a great way to have an insider’s view of your child’s school day and to put names to faces. Plus your children will love having you come into the class – it makes them feel very special. Even if you can’t do this regularly, see if you can offer to help on any one-off school or class events.

6.  Don’t believe everything you hear

A teacher once said “if you take what your children tell you about me with a pinch of salt, I’ll take what they say about you with one!” Even the most truthful, honest and intelligent children misinterpret words and actions sometimes. So before you are incensed and ready to give a teacher/other child a piece of your mind over something your child has told you, just breathe and get your facts straight first! It might all be a misunderstanding.

7.  Be prepared for the conversations that come at awkward times

Children have incredible timing. It will be just when you are rushing to get them out the door, or when they have got to bed really late that they come out with something like: “N told me I was mean” or “N made fun of me”. These are the moments when your children are needing your guidance and reassurance, but why couldn’t they have bloody told you at 4pm when you had nowhere to be and you had just asked them how their day had been?!? You can’t control when these issues will pop into your child’s mind, and I feel it’s really important to deal with them when they arise. You can’t recreate these moments at a more convenient time, because their attention will likely have moved on to something else, and the message you wanted to give will be lost.

 ——-

Even with all this effort on your part, you are still likely to get your fair share of “can’t remember” and “nothing”. The fact is you are never going to know everything about your child’s day. Children begin their independent life when they start school, albeit in a very limited and controlled way. They are making their own friends, taking on new responsibilities, and having a life separate from you. This means you should accept that you cannot know everything they are doing. The best you can hope for is to create as many opportunities for natural conversation, and be available when they do want to talk. Try not to get frustrated that they can’t remember the details you would like to know. I know that at the end of a long day when my husband asks how my day has been, my mind draws a blank and I find myself saying “Fine…”

Combination-feeding twins: Top Ten Tips

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They’re cute. And oh-so-hungry.

I struggled with breastfeeding my twins when they were born. I had really wanted to breastfeed them exclusively as I knew this was what was best for them. But, as with many aspects of parenting, reality is very different from the theory. With a combination of babies with tongue-tie, dehydration and weight-loss, not to mention very painful breastfeeding for me and a shortage of milk, I ended up having to introduce formula on medical advice. I was worried that this meant no more breast milk for my babies, and therefore no more of its wonderful benefits. But introducing formula does NOT need to mean the end of breastfeeding. It is perfectly possible to combine the two, as I did in the end for seven months.  Combination feeding is little talked about, but it can create a more sustainable solution to breastfeeding twins. Without it I certainly would not have been able to continue breastfeeding mine for as long as I did.

Here are my Top Tips on how to go about it:

  1. Breastfeed one baby and bottle-feed the other at each feed 

    This was the perfect solution for me. If you top up with formula after a breastfeed it is difficult to work out how much to give, and is incredibly time-consuming. You also risk over-feeding your babies (which I did) and end up being far more acquainted with the term “possetting” than anyone should, not to mention exacerbating any colic. This way is perfect if you have help, manageable if you are alone, and enables you to measure more accurately how much your baby has fed.

  2. Start with the bottle feed 

    It takes less time than a breastfeed, so the second baby doesn’t have to wait so long to be fed.

  3. Alternate which baby receives breast milk at each feed

    This means the baby who had the formula at the last feed will receive breast milk at the next feed. The breast-fed baby will most likely get hungry sooner than the bottle-fed one, and so can be fed first with the bottle at the next feed. Making a note of which baby had which feed can help a sleep-deprived brain keep track of whose turn it is.

  4. Be prepared to be flexible

    Don’t feel that you have to stick to any rules, including mine! Each baby is different, each parent is different, and you need to find what works for you. It’s impossible, and very stressful, to be completely structured and follow recommendations to the letter. That’s true for any newborn, and doubly so for twins.

  5. Don’t feel guilty

    For a long time I felt guilty with every bottle I gave my babies. I thought I was failing them as a mother by not providing them with the best start. Breastfeeding is not a test of maternal aptitude. Yes, breast milk is ideal, but try to get used to the fact that it is impossible to be ideal in everything you do for your child. Babies don’t drink milk forever; before you know it you’ll have the headache of weaning and potty-training, and the breast/bottle question will feel like a distant memory.

  6. When giving a bottle, pretend it’s a breast

    Sounds weird. What I mean is, allow your baby to latch on to it like a nipple, rather than shoving the teat in his or her mouth. This may help prevent nipple rejection, as babies can easily get lazy and not open their mouths to latch on to your nipple if they are used to the ease of the bottle. (I did sometime lapse with this when I was trying to save time. See point 4.)

  7. Give breast milk if your baby needs a top up between feeds

    It will keep your milk supplies up, it shouldn’t over-fill one baby making their feeds too out of synch with the other. I even started giving two breast-feeds in the mornings as I had enough milk for both.

  8. Bouncy chairs are a godsend

    They can help a hungry baby wait a little more patiently while their sibling finishes a feed. You will probably still get the odd screaming-session though.

  9. Take each day as it comes

    Don’t look too far ahead. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, imagining the next few months living this way can seem nightmarishly daunting. Don’t plan how long you will breastfeed for. Think about what you can manage: “I can do one more day/week” then reassess again at that stage. Just remember, if your twins have received any breast milk at all, you are doing amazingly well.

  10. Keeping your sanity IS important

    Raising twins is a lot about logistics; trying to keep two babies with different personalities, appetites, needs, likes and dislikes on the same schedule is one of the hardest parts of being a twin parent. In the beginning this feels like an impossible task, and you may feel like you are losing your mind and your sense of self. You need to do whatever you can, cut whatever non-essential corners there are, in order to cope. That is ok. As long as your babies are being fed, burped, changed, with an occasional cuddle, you are doing brilliantly. Everything else is a bonus, including breast milk.

 


 

Read my full experience of combination feeding twins here.

Flying with Kids – Top Ten Tips

ImageIt’s soon going to be holiday season, and I thought I would write a few tips about flying with young children. I have been doing long haul flights with my twins since they were three years old to visit family abroad, so my husband and I have negotiating airports and planes with young children down to a fine art.

Here are my Top 10 Tips:

  1. Be prepared for airport hell, but know it is short-lived. Bear in mind when you arrive at the airport you will have your luggage, your hand luggage, your children’s hand luggage, car seats, possibly a stroller, and children to contend with. It’s not a pretty sight. There is no such thing as travelling light with kids, and people are not always eager to help or be patient with slow-moving meandering children. It’s ok. You will get through it, and once you are through security it’s a breeze.
  1. Trunkis are fantastic!! The airport itself is the worst bit of the journey. There’s usually a lot of walking, queuing, waiting and mad dashing. Having a trunki your child can sit on when waiting for security, or be pulled along on when their legs are tired is a godsend. They are a mixed blessing, as you will find if you pull your child too fast on it you may lose them as you round a corner. And there is a very strong possibility you will find yourself carrying the trunki, your hand luggage and your child, but on the whole they are a help. Plus children LOVE to pack them like a grown-up.
  1. Plan your hand luggage. Having a good hand luggage system is something I have refined over the years. I recommend that everyone take one small item of hand luggage that can fit under the seat in front of them, in addition to any normal hand-luggage case they take. That includes the kids. You want these small bags to have anything you are regularly going to need for the journey – toys, tissues, books, wipes, medicines… Anything you are not likely to need during the journey, put in the overhead locker. You don’t want to be messing around getting bits you need from those bags either as you get on the plane or during the flight. This is the best way to make your flight time easy and stress-free. I have a small vanity I take for that purpose, and each child has a trunki in the overhead locker and a small backpack under the seat with toys for the journey. I don’t know why it took me several flights to work that one out!
  1. Pack a change of clothes for the kids in the hand luggage. Just in case.
  1. Let normal rules go out the window. So they want to eat their dessert first – so be it! All children presented with a tray with all the courses in one go would choose dessert first and spoil their appetite. I like to spoil myself on a flight, and your kids will be that much happier if you let them spoil themselves too!
  1. Bring a few snacks. Airlines don’t give as much food on planes as they used to, and the gaps between meals can be a bit long for the children (and adults!) Think biscuits and cereal bars rather than chocolate or yoghurts. You’re going to be in the same clothes for a while, and it’s easier to clean off crumbs. Plus, if your plane is delayed you don’t want starving children to contend with. Consider buying some bottled water once through security, as you can’t pack any in your hand luggage.
  1. Locate the sick bags as soon as you get to your seat. You’ll be thankful of those extra seconds if the time comes.
  1. Plan simple things to keep your children busy. A plain notebook and some crayons (no felt tips!!) can be the source of endless entertainment, and is open-ended so they can use it in a variety of ways. Avoid things with small pieces like lego or Barbie’s shoes, as you will be spending your whole time picking them up from under your, or some increasingly annoyed passenger’s, seat. Of course ipads can be great, but the battery doesn’t last long! Stories, colouring-in books and sticker books are also great, and can be brought out in the airport easily too. (Did I mention the airport is the worst part?)
  1. Bring a variety of toys/entertainment, but don’t show it all at once. Keep the mystique so you can get their attention if needs be. If your kids are happy watching lots of TV, lucky you, you’ll have a peaceful flight. I recommend getting a few new items as gifts, removing any packaging first. It doesn’t have to be expensive – a new notebook, a fun pencil, an activity book. I wouldn’t bother wrapping them as then you are left stuffing wrapping paper in all available spaces.
  1. Choose things that don’t need too much adult intervention – you want to be able to watch the movies! This may sound selfish, but being on a plane is the closest thing I get to luxury – someone is not only cooking my food, but giving it to me and tidying it away at the end! And I’m allowed, even encouraged, to eat in silence in front of the TV! Where else do you get that opportunity? So no, this is one occasion where I am not reading lots of stories to my children. They are busy drawing, colouring in or watching TV.