“The pilot actually apologized for what happened to us,” Ms. Davis said in a phone call last week. “He said, ‘That technically is our policy, so that flight attendant is probably not going to be reprimanded because she didn’t technically do anything wrong. But most flight crews have common sense enough to know you cannot force a 2-year-old to do anything they don’t want to do.’”
Same airline, same airport, same (masked) parent, same (unmasked) toddler: two profoundly different experiences. Although Ms. Davis believes she was an anomaly — “I think most of the time it would probably be OK,” she said — her experience underscores the power of uncontrollable variables (a flight attendant’s mood; the vicissitudes of toddlerhood).
Which is why your second question is key: What can parents do to proactively mitigate risk?
While I’m a mother, I’m hardly a child-development expert, as my nightly battles over vegetable consumption demonstrate. So I talked to Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and co-author of “No-Drama Discipline,” “The Whole-Brain Child” and several other parenting books.
“First of all, don’t wait until the day of your flight to put the mask on your 2-year-old,” Dr. Bryson said. “Because our brains are wired to protect us, anything that is novel that doesn’t feel good can activate a big reactive response.”
Before the flight, Dr. Bryson recommends the “name it to tame it” approach, which she and the co-author Daniel J. Siegel introduced in “The Whole-Brain Child.” This method entails pre-emptive conversations about what’s in store (the plane is going to fly really fast, your daughter will see people wearing masks, sometimes masks are uncomfortable, yada yada). Dr. Bryson also recommended embracing play (say, masking up a favorite stuffed animal) and buying several types of masks (ones that tie around the head, ones that loop around the ears).
“They might be excited about one specific pattern, but be sure to also think about the fit and how it translates into different sensory-input experiences,” she said of the mask selection. “There’s a good chance that one will start bugging them, so I would have another option that feels different.”
All of that prep sounds fine and good until you’re on the plane with a toddler, which even in the Before Times was very nerve-racking. Say you’re in-flight and rapidly approaching tantrum-city. The key, Dr. Bryson, is to refrain from ordering children to calm down or control themselves. (Easier said than done, I know.)