Try these tactics when you’re trapped with a kid in confined public places

Small children and airplane flights: The mere mention of those two concepts in the same sentence is enough to make many parents — and many airline passengers — cringe. It’s common for moms and dads of babies and toddlers to approach flights with extreme humility and trepidation. After all, so many things can go wrong while trapped way up there in the sky with absolutely no escape.

Want to have some tools in your arsenal to help you steer small children away from major meltdowns in confined public places? We’re talking flights, slow-moving store checkout lines, waiting rooms at doctors’ offices — places that simply don’t provide easy escape routes.

Here are several ideas shared by veteran moms and by Dr. Harvey Karp, the guru pediatrician who gave us “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” books and DVDs. If you have additional ideas, please — please! — share them here. Armed with this information, may none of us be at an utter loss for how to kill time with a small child in a 17-by-30-inch space for one to eight hours ever again!

1. Get thee to the dollar store. If you’ve got a flight in your future, the dollar store can be your salvation. Take a childless spin through the store with the mission of spending $9 to $12 on silly little toys and books that your child will like and — this is key — that your child HAS NEVER, EVER SEEN BEFORE. Wait until you’re on the airplane to do the “reveal.” “Don’t have them all in one bag, or they’ll want ALL of them at same time,” Dr. Karp advised. “Hide them in different places. This will make it a little more interesting and exciting for your child.” Depending on what you pick up, each $1 toy or book can buy you anywhere from five to 20 minutes of engrossed playing and fiddling time. Priceless!

2. Plan other unexpected surprises. Mind-blowing options abound and can be pulled together on the cheap, often with odds and ends you already have at home. Some ideas:

  • Fill little plastic Easter eggs with random nuggets of distraction. Balled-up, colorful paper can do the trick. So can cut-out pictures from magazines and coloring books. (Depending on your child’s age, beware of filling eggs with items that could become choking hazards.)
  • Flipbooks or coloring books can keep older toddlers happily occupied for quite a while.
  • Slinkies are always fun — and quiet!
  • Stickers and sticker books are exciting — especially if your little one is being introduced to the wonders of stickers for the very first time.
  • Got some construction paper? Got a glue stick? Try cutting up a whole bunch of strips of colorful construction paper before your trip and storing them away in a top-s