Tips for Getting Your Child to Behave on an Airplane

Behavior problems on a plane
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Nobody wants to be ‘that parent.’ You know, the one with the kid who screams, kicks the seat in front of her, and throws a temper tantrum that lasts the entire flight. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to avoid a colossal meltdown at 10,000 feet.

Begin Preparing Early

Whether you’re headed to Disney World next winter, or you’re planning a cross-country trip to visit Grandma, begin preparing your child to fly in an airplane early.

Read books about flying, watch video clips of planes taking off and landing, and look at pictures of airplane cabins.

Explain the Rules Well in Advance

Talk about the importance of sitting quietly, using an inside voice, and waiting patiently. Explain your expectations and discuss why it’s impolite to yell or squirm on a plane.

Talk about the rules in airports too. Explain that everyone will need to use walking feet and inside voices when you’re waiting for your plane. Repeat the rules regularly in the days and weeks leading up to your trip.

Review TSA Rules

Make your security screening go as smoothly as possible by reviewing the latest TSA rules in advance. Familiarize yourself with what you’re allowed to pack in your carry-on and what you’ll need to take out of your bag before putting it through the x-ray machine.

Explain the security process to your child as well. Learn what kids need to do at the screening checkpoint and make sure your child understands the process.

Handing over your belongings and walking through a machine surrounded by people who look like police officers could be intimidating to a child who doesn't understand what's going on.

Arrive at the Airport in the Best Shape Possible

Your schedule on the day of your flight is likely to be hectic. You may need to wake up hours early and meals may be delayed, so it’s important to arrive at the airport prepared to deal with the changes in routine.

An overtired and hungry child is likely to be cranky. So if possible, make sure your child gets as much rest as possible in the day or two before your trip. And try to ensure your child is well-fed before you arrive at the airport to avoid a hunger-induced meltdown before you even get on your flight.

Pack Your Carry-On Bag Wisely

Take plenty of snacks, small toys, and books with you. Consider allowing your child to watch a movie or play with an electronic device. It’s okay to break a few of your usual rules for the sake of a peaceful flight.

Make sure the items you’re going to need are packed in a bag under the seat in front of you. Otherwise, you won’t be access items during take-off or landing or if there’s turbulence during the flight.

Use Rewards

If your child is likely to have some difficulties on the plane, use a reward system to promote good behavior. It could be as simple as giving your child a sticker or small piece of candy every few minutes that she stays quiet.

You could also implement a simple token economy system or point system.

Offer a point or token every few minutes that she’s behaving and then allow her to exchange them for bigger prizes when you’re on the ground. Depending on where you’re headed, a prize could include a special dessert, extra time with electronics, or the chance to buy a small toy when you get to your destination.

Don’t Ignore Behavior Problems

While it’s good practice to ignore obnoxious behavior at home, please don’t do this on a plane. If your child is yelling, throwing things, and becoming agitated, take steps to calm the situation immediately. That may mean giving her an extra piece of candy or warning her about the privileges she’s going to lose when you arrive at your destination.

Keep in mind that an airplane serves as the “exception to the rule” when it comes to your usual discipline practices. For the comfort of the other passengers, you may need to give in more than usual to make sure that your child doesn’t create a scene on your flight.

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