A toddler, a busy airport, and the need for patience and self-control: what a mismatch, eh?

Recently, as our family was returning from a trip and standing in a big crowd of people waiting for their rides at about 10:45 p.m., a 3-year-old boy had an atrocious meltdown. He was screaming and running around, “I want my daddy!” while his mother and older sisters, laden with baggage, only stared at him helplessly.

I couldn’t believe what the tired mom did next: she egged him on. “Come on, can’t you yell louder?” she said. “Let’s hear how loud you can scream!”

The other travelers sneered and shook their heads. I wish I had been kind enough to suggest she throw her own stuff down, kneel to his eye level, wrap her arms around him soothingly, take him to a quiet corner, and settle him down ‘til the dad arrived.

But she was exhausted and done-in. We all have been there. But that’s no excuse for losing our own patience and self-control. Instead, we need to be more mindful of how we model and instruct young children about these important anti-tantrum virtues.

Here are some preventive measures that parents of young children could use to make an airplane trip a “classroom” for teaching patience and self-control:

  • Start by scheduling yourself with a good deal of “cushion” on arrival time and so forth. If you are stressed and anxious, kids pick up on it and express those emotions, too.
  • Teach even the youngest people that “patience” and “self-control” are highly valued. Use those words. Ask the child to repeat them to you, and smile big and nod. Then, in a crisis, when you use those “mantras,” it will calm the child. He or she will try to regain composure.
  • Recognize how scary it is for a young child to stand in a crowd of towering adults. Either pick the child up so that his or her head is about the same height, or walk away from the standing crowd and go sit down somewhere else.
  • When a tantrum starts, it signals the child needs motion. Always have a ball or large-motor toy with you on a trip. Use it to distract the child away from bad behavior, to good behavior. Go away from the crowd to let the child run around harmlessly with the toy. Even 1 minute of this is a great calmer-downer.
  • Remove a tantrum from the audience. Wrap your arms firmly and lovingly around the child and go to a quiet corner to settle down. That will make you feel less stressed and “judged,” too.
  • Especially if it’s before the child’s usual wake-up time, or after his or her usual bedtime, use your superskill of TOUCH to calm the child – hug, hold hands, stroke arms, sit with your arm around him or her. When a child feels secure, he or she can be a lot more patient with delays and disruptions.
  • Do a “dress rehearsal” in your home before you leave on the trip, so that the child will know what it might be like in the airport. You can find YouTube videos of a busy airport, people noise, loud announcements, and the sounds of jets taking off. Go through the motions of checking the baggage, going through security, finding your seat in a narrow aisle (use your kitchen chairs), picking up the baggage, and what to do while waiting.
  • Even the smallest child feels a loss of control in unfamiliar circumstances. Pack a small backpack with the child’s favorite fidgets, a book, a familiar snack, etc. Then the child will have a “job,” carrying that backpack. He or she will feel in control of at least that, and can successfully stay patient, gaining your constant praise. When your children get older, teach what these virtues mean and how they can exemplify them in real life:


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,

longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

— Galatians 5:22

By Susan Darst Williams • www.TheDailySusan.com • Heart Lessons • © 2017