Toddler Tantrums While Traveling

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Disciplining a toddler while traveling

June 2007

First of all, thank you for all of your responses to my Discipline 101 question. I read them, my husband read them and we culled what worked for us and made a great list.

I wanted to ask a follow up. Our situation is that we are abroad in Asia for 6 months with a teeny/crappy kitchen. We also are traveling around a fair amount with our 19 month old. While we can definitely cook more at home (point very well taken), the most difficult part of changing things in terms of throwing or not providing snacks all day is when we are on the go. If we take a train somewhere to eat dinner, our son will scream and whine to get out unless we give him a constant stream of snacks. If we are on a train for several hours and he throws something, there is no place to put him in a time out (and he usually doesn't care about a thing being taken away, he just gets in a throwing mood. It is a tantrum with throwing).

SO, if you wise, wise people could just help me a little bit more, we might be able to drastically improve things over here. So, (A) how do we discipline on the go and (B) how do we not give him constant snacks on the go. OR do we just accept that we have 5 more months here and he won't turn into a delinquent from a few weekends of extra snacks and tolerated throwing. THANK YOU anon

Now that I understand you are traveling I'm not sure this is all about discipline. You're putting your kid in a situation that is really hard for him and he's upset and cranky so then the situation is really hard for you also. I just don't think it is OK for him to be throwing things on a train no matter how upset he is. Take away everything that he could throw and then try to soothe or distract him from his tantrum. It seems like he is having a trantrum because he hates being confined on a train and having his routine disrupted. This is going to be a lot of work for you. It is easy to give him a snack to just placate him but this is teaching him bad food habits. Try to find ways to entertain him or soothe him on the train. Look out the window, play clapping games, look at books, walk up and down the aisle, play peekaboo, bounce him on your lap, give him toys (that you put away if he throws). It is REALLY hard to travel with toddlers. Can you cut back on the travelling? I agree that you can't put a toddler on time out in a train. Older kids would understand but not a toddler that hasn't had time outs before. good luck

Well, I definitely don't have an answer but can share my experience. My daughter is 22 months and when we travel I also seem to have to have a steady stream of snacks going. I have figured that if that's what works now, that's great, and just try to have healthy ones with me like cubed tofu, carrots, fruit, whole grain crackers. That said, she got through one flight with a half a BOX of graham crackers. Aside from the snacks though, I try to take every safe (and non-bothersome to other travelers) opportunity to let her out of her chair/carseat to wander and explore. Often this comes at the expense of my faster and more linear idea of how we should travel. But, for example, we learned about getting on and off moving walkways with a stroller, letting people pass, and saying ''excuse me'' to walk around others on our 4 hour flight delay last weekend. For me, what has worked is to try to say ''yes'' as often as possible to her curiosity, and have lots of snacks on hand too! Also, I have a friend that put together a box of small toys for her daughter to take on trips to restaurants and similar places. She fills it with crayons and small notebooks, stickers, cars, etc. which has seemed to work for her. As for discipline on the road, when there is unacceptable behavior, I generally ask my daughter to look at me, put my face very close to hers and say in a low, stern and serious voice that that behavior is not ok, we don't do that, etc. and then let it go. I figure there will be ample opportunities for discipline in coming years and there is no sense escalating things into tantrums for the benefit of my fellow passengers. Taylor

Good for you for wanting to get some guidelines - it helps a whole lot when both parents talk out possible scenarios and solutions beforehand so that when the tantrum happens, you feel a wee bit more prepared.

I would say no to ''tolerated throwing''. If he's throwing specifically because he's frustrated, just be sure to keep throwables out of reach and keep saying ''no throwing''. And endless snacks... it soon becomes a habit and an expected way of soothing... too much ''food as comforter'' makes me... uncomfortable. But absolutely still carry them - a few raisins or crackers can go a long way in soothing a cranky growing child.

I think the key thing is to figure out other ways to DISTRACT and ENTERTAIN. If you see the tantrum coming, pull out a toy. Put together a kit of easy to carry things that are for travelling only. Don't use all at once, but rotate them - that way he has ''new'' toys to look forward to on every journey. Small picture books that you don't necessarily have to read but just point out pictures ''Hey, I see a red dog... do you see the red dog? Where is the red dog?''

Small toys - not small enough to put in his mouth, but sturdy little cars ''Let's have a race!'' Action figures/dolls/people/animal toys - They also have the benefit that they can ''talk'' to him when he's tired of mommy and daddy always telling him ''no'' and ''stop''. And even the snacks - you can ''stretch out'' their use by lining crackers up, counting them, ''guess which hand'', playing ''here comes the raisin train...All aboard! Non-stop to the Tunnel of No Return!''

If his fine motor skills are developing, a few crayons and a small notepad. Post-it notes are endless fun even if he doesn't draw - he can safely stick them anywhere.

My kids are 8 and 5, but I still stock up on ''travel toys'' at thrift stores, garage sales and the like. Hide them away until the next time we have a long journey and they've had enough of the scenery... Have fun! Mom of Two

Dear Anon, It sounds daunting, but there's a solution. Since your son's behaviors could turn into lifetime habits, it's best to deal with it now-- a very loving thing to do. It seems your son's behavior is his coping strategy soothing his anxiety and trying to regulate himself-an important life skill. Help him find other appropriate means such as asking to be held or to play with him. Part of his coping strategy is seeking your attention (negative or positive), so he will do anything to get it-that works. Re-train him to seek your attention with his positive behavior. While your both calm kneel to his level, look him in the eye and frequently tell your son what you want him to do and what you do not want him to do. Make it short and simple so he can remember. Then consistently follow through with giving him attention when he acts appropriately, and withdrawing your attention when acting inappropriately. Stick to your guns. Without absolute consistency, things could get worse. Saying ''no'' and tolerating his tantrums until he knows his tantrums will not work is one of the most difficult, and loving, things a parent can do. As soon as he stops tantruming, give him positive attention (heart felt praise and nurturing). Remember he is trying to cope. Key: ''Catch him in the act of behaving appropriately, giving him lots of praise and nurturing when he is acting appropriately. Also, try setting aside at least 15 minutes a day for quality time with your son he can count on. This has been miraculously helpful. Also give him choices, as he is learning to assert his power and needs appropriate avenues for this important developmental need. Since setting limits can trigger your own difficult feelings and behaviors, consider getting some support as you all go through this brief trying time. Earplugs can help as well. If concerned about the neighbors, inform them of your plan. Again, setting appropriate limits is a very loving thing to do and it helps children feel safe. I have successfully used this method with many children and adolescents with far more severe behaviors. Good luck! Joanne

I have this rule -- don't travel with your child between the ages of 15-months and two-years and don't take children out to dinner between the ages of 18-months and four-years. First-off, you both must sit in time-out for 37 minutes...

Honestly, when I have been forced to break my own rules (I have a two and four year old and have traveled and eaten out extensively with them since birth), I go for convenience over desire. For instance, there is a restaurant near my home that makes the most fabulous tacos that take about 15-minutes to get to the table. They also make cheese pizza that takes about two minutes to get to the table. When I go their with the girls, I order cheese pizza. When I go with my newspaper and/or my husband, I order the tacos. When I am on an airplane for five hours with the girls (almost always traveling without my husband), I give them anything to keep them happy. Granted, I am playing defense, which is a little harder than outmanning the little creatures. Also, I think kids can sense when you are desperate.

I didn't respond to your first post, but don't stress too much about discipline. Try to work on structure (even if it means spending too much time in your crappy kitchen) at this point -- the same thing at the same time every day, within reason of course. jan

Hello fellow parent-- After your first post, I had to concur with the person who responded by saying that (by eating in restaurants every night with your toddler) you are setting your toddler up for a test that he is destined to fail, and for that he is labeled as the *bad* one.

After reading your follow-up post, I have the impression that you and your husband are determined to plow through your usual routines without taking your child's needs into consideration, and are expecting him to comply to fit your set plans. Raising a toddler means sometimes seriously limiting or bringing your plans to a grinding halt, reprioritizing your short-term goals, and lowering your expectations in terms of what you think a 19- month old is capable of handling before melting down. What do they say in AA? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

You don't say why your family is traveling in Asia for the next six months--Work assignment? Leisure travel? Extended family emergency? Whatever the reason, it might help to observe and/or talk with the locals and see how they handle living in apartments with ''teeny/crappy kitchens'' and traveling long distances with a toddler. But I think you and your husband have unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished with a toddler in tow.

I recommend that you read ''The Epidemic'' by Robert Shaw, MD. It's available online at and elsewhere. A Parent

after reading some of the bpn's responses, i wanted to remind you and the people responding to your post that we don't know your ''exact'' situation as to why, how, and the details of your travels to asia- your question was how to manage your toddler while traveling, such as while on the train should you guys have to go out to eat or go somewhere. in parts of asia, i know that trains are safer, more predictable, less expensive, you can walk around a bit, etc- whatever. you are asking an honnest question and you are obviously nervous about traveling with your child- this may be your first overseas trip with your child- thus you are asking for some advice. it's not fair to you or others who have the same consern and reading these responses looking for some advice. relax, you will manage. first of all, there will be two adults and one child- so find some comfort in that. just be prepared for meltdowns (so when it happens, it won't be so shocking for YOU- besides, in asia- culturally, kids can do no wrong), as when you travel with toddlers, they'll need a balance of stimulation, quiet time, and comforting. so, lots of different types of activities, fave toys, ecoloring books (just to scribble), stickers, post-its, books, treats/snack (healthy ones- b/c your traveling so they'll probably be snacking more than usual)- i pull out a ''activity'' every 30-45 minutes. you and your partner will need to be activily involved- you guys are stability and comforting factor when everything else around your toddler is new. as far as the time outs and throwing stuff. yes, be firm to say that it is not acceptable. perhapse have a walk in the cabin, look out the windows to spot something interesting, and talk about it and try to calm your child down. you know your child the best. dont sweat the small stuff with your toddler- everything will be foreign to them, so you have to work extra hard to make sure that he/she is having a fun trip.

every child is different, so i wouldn't say stop traveling untill your kid is old enough. my now, 4 y.o daughter has been traveling overseas since she was 10 months- she averages an international trip a year. now we also have a 7 month old and we're all headed off to asia again. i honnestly feel that you don't have to stop traveling, but change your style of traveling.

i'm almost giggling because you seem to be more worried about the 5 hr train ride than the 12+ hr plane ride to get to asia. if you can manage the plane ride- no worries. feel free to contact me should you need any advice or comfort. gl