What to do:
Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "My child will sense my mood, so I need to keep telling myself, 'This is okay. I can handle this. This is no big deal.' This positive self-talk will reduce my anxiety and won't panic my child about flying."
Empathy. Tell yourself, "All the excitement of the airplane and all the people can be overwhelming to my child, just as they are to me. I understand why she's unable to sit still in the chair while we wait to get on the plane. It's hard for me, too."
Teach. Tell yourself, "I can help my child learn how to keep calm (and busy!) in the small space of an airplane seat for the flight, as well as during the waiting time in the airport."
Model Empathy. Say, "I understand you don't want to sit any longer, but that's the rule. The pilot will tell us when we can get up. I know you can wait. You are being so patient."
Make Travel Rules and Praise Following the Rules. Simple rules, such as those you have for any outing, will establish boundaries of behavior: stay close, listen to instructions, hold my hand, keep your seatbelt buckled. Write those out together, so you have a list to check when your child follows these rules...and praise to give for doing so.
Walk It Off. Walk around to keep from sitting too long before the flight. When a young child won't stay in his seat, use the airline rule. Say, "I understand that you want to get out, but the rule is that you must stay seated while that light is on. See the light. When it goes off, we can walk to where those nice people who helped us are."
Use Praise to Compliment. When your child is behaving nicely, say, "You are sitting so quietly. That is so respectful of the other people on the airplane (or in the airport)." Or "We want to be polite and show people respect. Being able to use a quiet voice on an airplane is respectful of other people's privacy and need for quiet." Another example is, "Thank you for playing with your puzzle box so quietly. That doesn't interrupt the people in the seats next to us on the plane. They can hear better when we are quiet near them."
Use Grandma's Rule. To motivate your child to sit in his seat and to use a quiet voice, say, "When you sit down in your seat, you and I can sing softly to each other!"
Kick the Shoes Off and Play the Timer Game. When you can't book the bulkhead seat (so no one is in front of your child) prevent him from kicking the back of the seat in front of him. First take his shoes off. Then, use your phone timer to make a contest of keeping his feet still. Say, "Let's see how long you can keep your feet still. I'm setting the timer."
What not to do:
Don't Offer Food Rewards. Make it part of the flight routine, just as it is for you.
Don't Threaten. Saying things in the airport such as, "If you don't behave, we'll just go home," won't teach him appropriate behavior, even if you are willing to give up your flight tickets. Using praise and activity as rewards keeps your behavior caring and encouraging for your child.