You know the what's the matter with most children on planes? Absolutely nothing. They're kids, for goodness sake. But some act differently on a flight than at home.
Like the seat-kicker. The tantrum-in-the-aisle thrower. The dreaded screamer.
A lot of children simply haven't been properly prepped (I will not include babies here, since babies are going to do what they're going to do). Many difficulties can be avoided if kids know what to expect, and you know what to pack. And don't forget the magic either, which you'll see in my tips below.
The following information comes from family, friends and my own experiences traveling with my now 13-year-old daughter who's been flying since infancy (and has the elite miles status to prove it).
Preparing Kids for Flights
For all kids: If your child has never flown before, tell him or her what's going to happen both at the airport and on the plane. Include everything from luggage drop-off to lines at the gate and beyond. Fear of the unknown can cause anxiety in all of us, and some kids vent by acting out. Ease these fears by finding pictures of your plane to show older kids (check your reservation to see which aircraft you'll be flying) or show them seat configurations (SeatGuru is great for this).
For little ones, bedtime stories about the upcoming travel adventure are a must, and there are a zillion children's books on the topic. And while I can't personally recommend any, I've seen titles such as "My First Trip on an Airplane," so I know you'll find something. Another idea: Search for videos by typing in "what it's like to fly in a plane" to give kids a sense of what they'll see out the window (but review the video yourself first to make sure it's appropriate).
Airport security: If you treat security matter of factly, they will too. Brush up on the rules at TSA.gov so you'll know what you're talking about. Kids 12 and younger no longer have to take off their shoes, but they still have to put backpacks and stuffed animals on the conveyor belt. Reassure your child that his beloved sock monkey will reappear at the other end. If you have time before your trip, see if you qualify for the TSA's PreCheck or a government "trusted traveler" program, both of which offer a quicker security experience for a small fee.
The Talk: Ah, yes, The Talk. This is all about your expectations for your child's behavior. Stress that while this will be a fun trip, it will require an "indoor voice" and no horseplay will be allowed. Suggestion: Try burning off excess energy by walking little ones around at the airport, but stick close to your gate area. Of course, as every veteran parent knows, The Talk only goes so far, so consider indulging in a little bribery (see the "treats" section below).
Don't forget the magic - Part I: Most of us have been flying so long that we're immune to the wonder of it all. but it's still there, right outside the airplane window. Tell the kids about the fun of flying through clouds and seeing dollhouse-like cities below. It might even rekindle your own love of flying.
Packing Tips for Kids
Gum and hard candies: Pressure changes can hurt small ears at take-off and landing, which can sometimes be eased with gum or little candies. It's also a good time to feed infants or offer pacifiers.