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Do managed expectations work on kids? It does for me!

The key to limited meltdowns is obnoxious over-explanation. I swear that this is the entire reason my kid is so well behaved. I am not a psychologist or a geneticist, but for myself, managed expectations are the reason for my emotional chill. I am convinced that also applies to little people.  

Nearly all of my family is back in the Midwest. Whether it’s the Chicago suburbs or Lafayette, Indiana, we are constantly jumping on the Turnpike and cruising to the flat, friendly lands where I was raised. With a toddler, this is an 11- or 12-hour drive, depending on the location. 

With our recent flights to California (which went GREAT, by the way, and no COVID so far), we started telling Coraline a few weeks prior that we were going to be “flying alllll day” just like when we go to the Midwest, we “drive alllll day.”  

I was still incredibly nervous about having “the crying kid” on the airplane – even with all the prep work. But you know what? On the way out, for two flights and almost 12 hours of travel from start to finish, we had less than 15 minutes of meltdown. On the way back? Less than 30 seconds. 

The next day, we loaded the car and drove to Chicago for a weekend wedding. Guess who had a meltdown? It wasn’t Coraline. It was one of her parents. I’ll leave it to you to guess if it was Kevin or me. (Here’s a hint: it wasn’t me.)  

Again, my reasoning: obnoxious over-explanation.  

For the parents out there who aren’t annoyingly repetitive about prepping their toddlers, here’s how we do it: 

  1. Start early. Are you flying in a month? Start now. Tell them that they are going to be traveling all day (or night) and what the expectations are. 
  2. Dumb it down. I didn’t dig deep into details. I stuck with the basics. “We are going to be flying allllllll day to get to California.” “We are going to be on two planes total!” “We are going to start in the morning and get there at night.” 
  3. Sound hellishly excited. Every single time I talk about something I consider a pain in the butt, I act like it’s not a pain, that it’s a fun adventure, that I’m really looking forward to not checking any bags, carrying a car seat and traveling with a toddler. What fun! 
  4. Remind them often. I think I reminded Coraline every few days for the first week or two and then mentioned it every day the week prior to our departure.

Now, will this magic system work on every child? I don’t know. Does it work on mine? Yes, absolutely. I do this for everything that’s brand new. I do an abridged version for things that aren’t new, but don’t happen often. 

People naturally like to know what’s going on in advance. When we’re flying blind in any situation, we don’t like it. I believe this to be true for all people – even little ones. That’s why I go out of my way (and exhaustingly so) to let her know what’s up. My hope is that I can avoid any frustration and anxiety on her part, and most of the time, I do.  

Bitsy McCann
Bitsy McCann owns a boutique graphic design firm in Harrisburg, PA, performs original music all around Central PA, officiates one-of-a-kind weddings, and spends most of her free time obsessing over her husband and toddler. She would absolutely welcome your thoughts and commentary - send her a message on either LinkedIn or Facebook

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