Disclaimer: I am a father, and I love kids. But I have my moments.
Usually these "moments" occur when I'm jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in a long metal cylinder for hours on end as a toddler gives voice to all frustrations. Loudly. Unceasingly. At a volume that can't be drowned out by Metallica on my noise-canceling headphones.
That's when I remember the immortal words of Clarence Darrow (spoken, no doubt, as he sat beside a noisy little tyke aboard a Douglas DC-2): "The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents and the second half by our children." Hmm, a bit extreme, perhaps, however many have sent me notes expressing their willingness to pay one of those dreaded airline fees specifically for child/infant-less flights.
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But enough with the hyperbole: let's talk real-world solutions to the problem of screaming kids: I'm afraid there are only two things that you, the passenger, can do about this:
Calmly and sympathetically ask the parents if they could please stop the child from screaming/kicking/flailing, or, if they'd like you to ring for a flight attendant to help them (I'm sure the cabin crew will love me for that one).
Hope a flight attendant comes along and kicks the family off the plane, as happened recently on a Southwest flight when a two year old boy would not stop yelling (the airline later apologized).
Now if you're the parent of a wayward child -- that's different. There are a lot of things you can try.
Let's start with infants, and here's a chilling thought from the staff at MayoClinic.com: "Sometimes babies simply need to cry." On the other hand, sometimes there's a reason for their cries; you just need to recognize it and deal with it.
What to try:
Practice CFBN: Change, Feed, Burp, Nap. Try one, try them all -- chances are, one combination or another will stop the tears. Pretty basic, yes, but sometimes it's hard to think straight when a baby is wailing away.
Ear pressure pain can occur especially during take-offs and landings; try a pacifier or try feeding your baby. Warning: author Toby Young ("How to Lose Friends and Alienate People") tried this with his infant daughter and said all he got was projectile vomiting, adding "It gives new meaning to the term 'Jet Stream'."
Some babies suffer from colic, that intense crying that you can't seem to stop; the good news is, these crying jags often take place about the same time each day so you might, with your pediatrician's permission, try to jigger your schedule enough so you can "fly around" the worst of it (but if it was my child, I think we'd just stay home).
Make sure your infant is healthy before you fly; if there is even the vestige of an ear infection, the flight may be too painful and worth forgoing – for your child, and your fellow passengers.
Ah, yes, toddlers: those busy little people who "live in the moment" and don't always listen to Mommy and Daddy.
What to try: