What to Do If Your Child Has an Epic Meltdown While Traveling

May 13, 2017

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Not only was March 1 a day to remember in the points and miles world as the launch of the World of Hyatt — for me, it will go down in history as the day my 23-month old daughter had the most epic meltdown ever. I’m talking about a level-10 tantrum in the middle of a busy airport.

The Meltdown to End All Meltdowns

If anyone has ever spent a significant amount of time with a toddler, you’ll know the 18-24 month stage is tricky. It’s when children often don’t know how to deal with their emotions, so they default to crying and screaming as a way of processing what they’re feeling. As much as people like to think there’s something “wrong” with the child, it’s a normal phase of their developmental behavior. So keep that in mind as you read this.

We’d just spent the last three nights of a fun family trip with my in-laws at the Hyatt Ziva CancunI made sure to properly plan things so we could completely maximize our time there, booking a 7:00am departure flight from Newark (EWR) and an 8:00pm flight back home from Cancun (CUN) a few days later, allowing us to enjoy our last full-day of fun at the resort before heading home.

It all started as an normal day to say the least. We’d woken up and enjoyed some time at the pool and beach before we checked out at 4:00pm, grabbing one last dinner and heading to the airport at 5:30pm. My kids were so happy to be spending time with their grandparents — they don’t get to see them very often — so they didn’t miss a beat. As a result, both of my kids skipped their naps that day. And when the kids don’t nap, they usually conk out around 7:00pm.

Disaster struck as we were getting ready to go through security and my daughter decided it was an appropriate time to completely lose it. Nothing worked to soothe her — and I mean absolutely nothing. We tried carrying her, rocking her, offering her snacks, rotating between parents and grandparents, but everything was a fight. She carried on at the top of her lungs for no less than one hour. Not only were there crowds of people watching and pointing as if it was all a circus act, but someone actually came up to me and made a comment about how I must be abducting this tiny, screaming child.

At some point — as I was nearing my wit’s end — I decided to let her lay on the floor in the corner, and guess what? It was all over a minute later and when she fell asleep, I transferred her into her stroller. I seriously thought there’d be a standing ovation from everyone in the airport at that point.

March 1, 2017. A date which will live in infamy — for me. Image by the author.
March 1, 2017. A date which will live in infamy — for me. Image by the author.

Why Am I Sharing This Vulnerable Moment?

While traveling with kids is wonderful, especially as a way to make lasting family memories, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. I know some readers may try and use my story as an example of why I should not travel with young children, but then again, an epic meltdown like this can happen anywhere — at the supermarket, an amusement park or even during a family dinner party. If there’s truly a secret solution for preventing and stopping toddler meltdowns altogether, I haven’t discovered it yet. But what I do know is when little ones get emotionally charged, they simply do not think and cannot function.

So, What Should You Do If It Happens To You?

If your child ends up throwing a full-blown tantrum in public, the best thing you can do is find a way to minimize disturbances. If you have unfortunate circumstances like I did and all hell breaks loose in the middle of a busy airport, try to find a quiet spot, like the nearest lounge (just kidding!).

Next, try to eliminate interactions with nosey bystanders, who may end up just adding stress to the situation. The last thing any parent needs at a time like this is judgmental comments and outside opinions from the peanut gallery. A meltdown is nobody’s business except for you and your toddler’s, and it’s the parents’ job to stay in control and remain calm and collected while the child works it all out.

I was a little surprised that other travelers went out of their way to point and make rude comments while all of this was happening. As a parent, I was exhausted and beyond the point of feeling embarrassed during my daughter’s meltdown. I felt pretty defeated to say the least — believe me, I wanted her to calm down more than anyone else.

Despite all of the rude and unnecessary engagements, one person stood out. A kind woman came up to me, hugged me, while simultaneously trying to console my daughter and reassure me that I was doing everything I could possibly do as a parent during this difficult time. She went out of her way to offer compassion, and I’ll never forget her for it.

When all else fails, sometimes you just have to let them cry it out. On the bright side, at least it was a silent five-hour flight home!

Have you ever had a similar situation when traveling with your toddler? Tell us about it, below.

Angelina Aucello covers family travel for TPG and writes the popular blog, Angelina Travels. Follow along with all her travel adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images.

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