Stop kicking the seat! Parents and Cabin Crew suggest how to deal with it

Anyone, who has flown, will know that seatback kicking is one of the pet hates of most travellers and the dread of parents: either way, if your angel is being a little rascal or another rascal is using your seatback as a kicking board!

So how do you deal with the seatback assaults?

Well, the best place to start is in the car: teach your child, from a young age, that kicking the seatback in front is not acceptable- it’s distracting, irritating and makes the seat dirty. 

On a flight, we generally see seatback assaults because your little one is bored, tired, not getting their own way or hangry (hungry and angry as a result).  The good news is we have some awesome suggestions: we’ve asked experienced parents and flight attendants what is the best way to deal with this very annoying behaviour to share their top tips

However annoying, start with a kind thought

The kicking of the seat is incredibly annoying!  As the flight goes on, you are getting more tired and generally become dehydrated and more irritable, it grates even more. Yet we urge you not to always assume the worst, as Esther reminds us: 

My son has ADHD and is on the Autistic spectrum.  He has heightened sensory issues and travelling is challenging.  Yet we travel a lot- both for pleasure and family.  

In the past, he has kicked the seat in front (usually not intentionally) and I have stopped him or restrained him.  This has often been met with stares and tuts from the person in front. It’s incredibly difficult when you are doing everything in your power to prevent a meltdown and everyone assumes a naughty child and bad parenting is the culprit.  You’re not only managing the child, but also the expectations of everyone else in such situations. 

A kind word, or sympathetic smile to the parent is much more helpful than a dirty look.”

How to deal with your child when she is kicking the seat in front?

1, Remove the opportunity in the first place

You know your kids the best. (Though some do surprise us and freak out on us mid-flight… and here’s what you do then in our 6 Strategies to calm a Distressed Child):

Do you know your little one doesn’t like sitting in one place for a long time? If possible, try to get a seating arrangement where they just don’t have the opportunity to kick a stranger in the seat in front.

As a parent, I try to be preemptive with the seat kicker by dividing up my family so that the smallest one, and less likely to listen to reason, is behind one of us. So it’s not as big of an issue, because our toddler is kicking someone in our family. ” Tony

I try and minimise issues by getting bulkhead seats and ensuring there are just two of us in the row, but it’s difficult, especially as these are premium seats now-a-days.” Edith

So if seating arrangements don’t provide a solution, then consider the way they are seated.

I’d say my boy twin is the worst offender, especially as he gets more tired. Then I put him on my lap sideways to stop it happening. It’s a great way to calm them for a nap too” Angie

2, No means no

The point raised by people is that more often than not others are more forgiving as long as the parents are being seen to be doing something to make the misbehaviour stop.

Letting this sort of thing go on will land both your kid and you, as the parent in hot water!

It’s very important both for your family and those around you to help your child understand certain behaviours are not acceptable in public space.

“The parent stare of doom teamed with reasoning– “Can you think how unkind you’re being to the person in front of you? Would you like it if someone kicked you?” Usually does the trick.

My 6 year old is pretty good and sits somewhat still.

My 3 year was super annoying. When she was younger, I used to resort to physically stop her, by touching (sometimes holding) her legs and remind her not to kick. Then repeat for the duration of the flight.

I can’t threaten to take the entertainment away I would lose my sanity!” – Jason

Trisha takes a hardline: “Parenting on a plane is just like parenting, literally, anywhere else.

I wouldn’t let my daughter act like a ratbag anywhere in public – the fact that I’m tired and uncomfortable and dehydrated doesn’t remove my responsibility as a parent.

Kids kick seats and act out because they feel like crap or they’re bored.

Entertain them! Solve the feeling like crap problems.

We’ve flown extreme long haul (London to Sydney and back, several times) with our daughter and managing her expectations pre-flight, keeping her hydrated and fed, taking her for walks, feeding her as many snacks as she wants, plus enforcing screen breaks and sleep has always worked for us.”-

3, Make it personal

There’s nothing like helping your kids understand the consequences of their actions. A seat is an inanimate object, but if you are able to point out that there is actually a person sitting there, then it becomes a different action for most kids.

“I got up with my toddler and introduced him to the people in front of him and explained that this is who he was hitting. That way if he starts again, I can say “Quit kicking Dan!” instead of just “Quit kicking the seat!”. 

It’s always worked. I think they don’t really realize that they are kicking a person, but the moment they do, they stop.”  Sharon

This is echoed by Vikki with a slightly older son: “I have tried to make my son realize that there is a real person on the other side of that seat.

By showing him who is there and, in some cases, having them acknowledge that he is making them uncomfortable by kicking the seat; it seemed to embarrass him a little, which is fine by me!

He might say no to me happily, but seems to find it harder saying no to a stranger.

4, Make it consistent

Aja believes it is her consistency that has helped her fidgety little ones rule out such bad habits: “We travel constantly and have a hard line on seat kicking and tray table slamming with my 3 toddlers. We’ve gotten on to them since they were itty bitty because we wanted to stop it as soon as the behaviour arises.

There’s nothing like consistency to help your child understand what is acceptable and not acceptable. Sadly, we as parents cannot sit back and relax, while our child annoys other passengers. We have to be consistent, however tired, irritated and busy, with other things, we are.

5, Have actionable consequences

Basic Newtonian physics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Interpreted into parenting can be a great help. Parenting with consequences is a useful trick in your parenting toolkit.

This is sort of playing up is exactly why I always have something that could be used as a threat 😂. Be it chocolate, or when flying, some sort of entertainment like iPad etc. Something to use as a threat at any time. Sometimes it comes to: “right, if you carry on, when we get there, you won’t be going to xyz”. It always works with my son who is a very hyper 7 year old!”  Christi

Are little white lies about consequences acceptable? Some parents think yes.

I threaten them with that they will have to either sit next to me or my husband (whichever one they don’t want to sit with) and then if all else fails, walk around with them and tell them a big lie about the captain of the plane having to come out and talk to them if they don’t stop (no one needs to hear the lies you tell a toddler!) x” Jill

Just make you know your child and know them enough that they won’t push you to the consequence. You will have to follow through on your consequences in order for them to hold up any time in the future.

6, Bribery and reward work too

It’s generally good to practice positive discipline: in advance, you can agree with the kids what behaviours are expected and what is not acceptable. You can even agree on little reward charts for being good and agree in advance some rewards they will get.

Even if you haven’t done this in advance, rewards (and bribery) can still be a parenting tool on the flight, even once the behaviour has started:

“Take the little one aside and quietly discuss what is and isn’t appropriate. And what they will get as a consequence of stopping an action for the rest of the flight.

Think more in terms of rewarding with an activity, than any food or treats, (especially not sweet during the flight because this will give them more of a sugar high and more energy and irritableness.)

“Most often children relish their parents’ attention. If you give it to them for positive behaviours they are less likely to be vying for attention by misbehaving.” Agi, flight attendant

How to deal with someone else’s child kicking the back of your seat?

1, Can you ignore it?

It seems it’s not smart to ignore these behaviours, because, crammed into a big metal tube, nerves are frayed and tempers can escalate all too easily.

I’ve been on a flight where the parent did absolutely nothing and an almighty row broke out a few rows away. The parents couldn’t give a monkey’s, though, so it was really bad!  Particularly bad, as they just sat there getting drunk!!! Was the worst I’ve ever seen!“- Helen

I had an argument with a lady on a flight about her 5 yr old kicking my seat, we had just flown 14 hours from Hong Kong and I’m pregnant. She was saying ‘what can I do if she doesn’t listen’ I said you should be telling her no every time she does it instead of just once?! My 1.5yr old on my lap does it and his legs gets restricted straight away.“- Amy

2, The LOOK

Linda “Sometimes a teacher stare can do the trick.

Turn back, no words, just a stern, not angry, stare. You know The Look, right? The one that says, I’m not joking, I’m not accepting this behaviour, I am going to win at this.

Just make sure you are not being too passive aggressive about it.

3, Make a human connection

We love Emily’s tip. She’s a mum of 3 year old twins. “One of the nicest things that has happened to me, was when the person in front turned around and started up a conversation with my ‘kicker’, asking them about their holiday. They were so distracted by telling the story they stopped doing it. 

It also meant that my repeated ‘stop kicking’ requests were then applied to a person they now liked, so they were much more receptive. 

I have actually used this myself since: turn back with a big smile and a “hello, my name is”.  With a particularly persistent child, I also offered them a snack (check allergies first) and said that if they can be really nice to me and not kick my seat I’ll give them another one when they get off the plane. Worked like a dream and the poor mum looked like she wanted to kiss me! ” 

I will say people hate when a stranger “corrects” their kid. But truthfully if I’m the passenger, and it continues I would probably turn around and kindly tell that they are kicking me and it doesn’t feel great. Kids seem to listen to other adults more than their own parents/guardians especially when they aren’t expecting to be disciplined.” – Antoine, father of 3

4, Talk to the flight attendant and ask for help

The reason the flight attendants are there is to ensure safety and comfort of passengers. So don’t feel like they are too busy to deal with it. It can be often the most diplomatic way to deal with the issue and not let it get out of hand.

I was kicked loads on a flight recently and the mum didn’t stop it but she was trying in her way so I turned around once to let her know it was annoying, saw she was attempting to rectify it and then basically I put up with it for the flight. If the parents weren’t doing anything at all I would speak to them first, if it continued I would speak to airline staff, if it continued I’d turn around and politely but firmly tell the child to stop. Not much else you can do!” – Helena

Let’s all learn some etiquette!

An interesting point raised by one of the respondents was about general flight etiquette

I’ve never had that situation from my kids but frequently get adults who can’t help but continuously mess with their trays or nudge our chairs, nor stand without pulling on the whole chair and when it’s my kids who are bobbing around from it then I have to try so hard to not lose it.” says Nicole, mum of 2

I am much, MUCH more sympathetic to children behaving “badly” (or just being children) than manspreading, arm rest hogging, playing music with no headphones or very loud and other anti-social behaviour from adults.” – Carla

Join the conversation! What’s the best and worst you’ve seen parents handling this? Do you have hints and tips?

Monika Roozen

Monika is a mum of 3, an avid traveller, who grew up travelling the world and has continued travelling ever since. She holds a degree in animal sciences, nutrition and business administration and has consulted for several years for the hospitality industry and customer service departments. Monika loves slow travel- taking time for immersive experiences in culture and nature- sailing and snowboarding. Her personal adventures are chronicled in Inspireroo Family Travel Magazine . (Click to see their family mad ventures)

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