''Are we nearly there yet?'', is the dreaded question parents often face before their car even leaves the driveway. But what happens when you're about to embark on a 7+ hour long-haul flight and you've run out of toys, bribes and sweets to keep your children entertained?
I recently worked with airline, Emirates to create the Child Boredom Quotient (CBQ) helping parents identify the exact moment their kids will get bored so they can enjoy stress-free travel this winter.
The study of more than 2,000 UK parents of under 12s alongside observations of children during their playtime helped me categorise activities into Active (A), Passive (P), Interactive (I), Creative (C) or Sensory (S) to formulate the CBQ and ultimately help parents mix the perfect blend of activities to catch boredom before it sets in.
Some activities whilst given one category, might straddle one or more; for example, sticker books are down as Active but might be Creative too. Walking down the aisle might be active for a toddler but Interactive for a babe in arms. The actual activities within each category are suggestions only - you can swap another Interactive activity for fidget spinners, for example, to suit the chid.
Passive - watching films, listening to music
Active - walking up and down the aisle, playing with a pack of cards
Creative - drawing, colouring books
Sensory - refreshments
Interactive - reading a storybook, chatting
Age is obviously a key factor too. For example, children aged 3-4 are probably the most challenging age as they are likely to be the most physically active, starting to seek independence and they also need more sophisticated things to entertain them than they did when they were younger.
Similarly, the 'electronic babysitter' whilst popular for a flight, may not work as well for all age groups; parents of younger children will find that they have less attention span for this than older ones. Breaking up this passive activity for active or creative ones will stop children becoming bored, restless and less disruptive.
One of the things that I discovered during this research was that very young children don't really need much in the way of sophisticated toys for a plane journey and will be most amused by things in the environment - including other passengers and of course their parents. For example, playing 'I Spy' whilst walking up the aisle is great for toddlers for both the exercise and to change the visual environment. Don't forget old-fashioned singing and interactive games like peekaboo too.
Meanwhile, older children can be given simple materials like notebooks and pens, puzzle books and comics; I was surprised to discover just how creative kids will be with a simple notebook if they have nothing else to amuse them. Ensure that they take breaks every so often to walk up and down the plane and try to restrict the passive viewing just like you might at home. And, I find so many parents are afraid of their kids being bored - don't be! Being left to their own devices with a few basic materials will ensure that they find creative ways to engage their brains.
To help you tackle child boredom on your next long-haul flight, here's some tips that have been split into areas that keep all children entertained, but also certain activities that work better for chldren of different ages.
• Encouraging children to sleep - after electronic activities, the next most time occupying activity is sleeping. Surprisingly, there is very little difference across the ages with parents reckoning that all children from 0-12 sleep for around 80 mins on a plane. Make sure you pack your child's comfort blankets, cuddly toys - all those objects that help them doze off in your hand luggage.
• Make use of inflight entertainment systems - watching a movie is the best distraction for all ages, spending anywhere between 70 -100 minutes on this. Watching a TV show, playing games on the inflight system and then playing on a smart device are also advised as the top entertainment for children.
YOUNG CHILDREN (AGES 0-6)
• Don't overbear younger children with too many activities - research shows that less is more when it comes to keeping young children distracted on a flight. Allowing them to explore objects and things in the environment. Such as taking them for walks up and down the aisles or interactive games using their surroundings e.g. find a man wearing a hat, find a red t shirt etc.
• Remember to leave space in hand luggage for colouring/drawing books - drawing was the most popular activity for children aged 9 and younger. Naturally colouring/sticker books had the most appeal for younger ages and quizzes/puzzles being better suited to older children.
OLDER CHILDREN (AGES 7-12)
• Listening to music - 11-12 year olds can spend up to 50 minutes listening to music compared with a mere 13 for younger children.
• Engage and talk to children - Children will chat with their parents or each other for 50-100 mins in total, which is actually similar to the amount of time spent on electronic activities. So, remember during the flight to switch up activities and take away electronic devices to encourage children to talk to one another whether it be about the film they just watched to what they want to eat.
Follow this advice and the next time you are on a long flight the only complaint you might hear is 'are we there already??'
For more tips and advice see https://www.emirates.com/media-centre/are-we-nearly-there-yet-under-12s-bored-49-minutes-into-their-long-haul-flight