“The pilot apologized for what happened to us,” Ms. Davis said on a phone call last week. “He said, ‘It’s technically our policy, so the flight attendant is probably not going to be reprimanded because she hasn’t technically done anything wrong. But most flight crews have enough common sense to know that you can’t force a 2 year old to do what he or she doesn’t want to do.
Same airline, same airport, same parent (masked), same toddler (unmasked): two profoundly different experiences. Although Ms. Davis thinks she was an anomaly – “I think most of the time that would probably be OK,” she says – her experience underscores the power of uncontrollable variables (a flight attendant’s mood; the vicissitudes of early childhood).
That’s why your second question is critical: What can parents do to proactively mitigate risk?
Although I am a mother, I am hardly an expert in child development, as my nightly battles over vegetable consumption show. So I spoke to Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., psychotherapist and co-author of “No-Drama Discipline,” “The Whole-Brain Child,” and several other books on parenting.
“First of all, don’t wait until the day of your flight to put the mask on your 2-year-old,” said Dr. Bryson. “Because our brains are wired to protect us, anything new that doesn’t feel right can activate a great reactive response.”
Before the flight, Dr. Bryson recommends the “name it to tame” approach, which she and co-author Daniel J. Siegel introduced in “The Whole-Brain Child”. This method involves preventive conversations about what lies ahead (the plane will fly really fast, your daughter will see people wearing masks, sometimes the masks are uncomfortable, yada yada). Dr Bryson also recommended adopting the game (e.g., masking a favorite stuffed animal) and buying several types of masks (those that tie around the head, those that wrap around the ears).
“They might be excited about a specific model, but also be sure to think about the fit and how it translates into different sensory experiences,” she said of the mask selection. “There’s a good chance one of them will start bothering them, so I’d have another option that looks different.”
All of that prep sounds great until you got on the plane with a toddler, which even in the Before Times was very nerve-racking. Let’s say you are in flight and quickly approaching the city of temper tantrum. The key, Dr. Bryson, is to refrain from ordering children to calm down or control themselves. (Easier said than done, I know.)