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Throw Mama from the Plane

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Brett Berk:Parents, not kids, need to learn the best way to make it through a long plane ride.
In my job as consultant to some of the world's biggest producers of toys, media and consumer products for kids and families, I travel by plane quite often. Aside from racking up the frequent-flier miles, this provides me with many opportunities to witness the kinds of hideous errors that occur when parents and small children are stuck in a tightly enclosed space and placed under immense pressure (literally!) for hours on end.

One such glorious example happened in the row behind me as I was heading back from North Carolina the other day. Now, I want to state right off that this isn't going to be a story in which I complain about the airborne behavior of an unruly toddler. I'm an expert in child development, and I understand that kids and planes often, and inherently, catalyze a reaction. This is why God (a.k.a. Steve Jobs) created the iPod. (You don't like the noise? Choose some of your own.) No, it was something a parent did that ignited my fury.

About two-thirds of the way through the flight, this woman's 4-year-old began getting a bit (understandably) stir-crazy. The seatbelt light was off and the ride was smooth, but instead of solving the problem by taking the tyke for a little stroll up and down the aisle, or studying the global and airport maps in the in-flight magazine, or creating an air-sickness-bag puppet (make sure it's empty first), or flipping through the endlessly entertaining pages of Sky Mall, this brilliant mom made a threat. "Randy," she said, "you better sit down in your seat and calm down right now, or I'm going to push this button [the flight attendant call button] and have them take you away. I'll say, 'Randy's misbehaving. Take him away.'"

Now, we all say stupid things under stress -- things we wish we could take back. But that shouldn't stop me from analyzing this particular nugget from a purely instructive standpoint. I've already mentioned a few ways of reeling in an unruly plane-bound child, ones that utilize the materials provided in the seat pocket. But there are plenty of other options whose required materials are slim and light enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you: drawing, reading, making books, creating travelogue collages, watching "Finding Nemo" for the 21,000th time on your portable DVD player ....

While free and compact, making threats upon which you are incapable of following through is never advisable. Why? Well, first, it makes you sound like a desperate idiot to anyone who happens to be within earshot. Second, it's a fabrication, and aside from the fact that lying to your kid only begets trouble -- and the need for additional lies -- we all know that only crazy people invent excuses for why things happen (e.g., "The aliens told me to"). Finally, and most importantly, when you create ultimatums which you don't plan to -- or can't -- enact, you completely undermine your authority as a parent and a disciplinarian. And if you toss that out the emergency exit at the first sign of chop, what do you expect to carry you through the turbulence of the toddler, tween and teen years?

Real discipline involves making real rules -- making them real clear in advance, and really following through on them when they're transgressed. Anything else is just an order for circling the airspace (at best) or an eventual crash-landing (at worst).

next: Thirsty for Bling? Try Hello Kitty Water, Only $100!
27 comments so far | Post a comment now
Stacie August 4, 2010, 9:31 AM

Right on! Well said.

Kelly August 4, 2010, 10:40 AM

Yowsa! That’s crazy, poor baby. I can remember being in my peditrician’s office with my children hearing a mom threaten her preschooler to stop jumping around or she would get the nurse and the dr to come in and give him a shot. I pulled out some paper and crayons that I had in my bag and then surprise, the kid was fine. But why use that to threaten with, I’m assuming he will get a shot sometime in his life, and he’s going to think it’s a punishment?? Just like this little one on the plane, someone i’m sure will press their call button, or the flight attendant might come up and ask him a question…………..

apl August 5, 2010, 4:52 AM

I agree that what this mom said was inappropriate and would have infuriated me to hear as well, but this article is just so self-righteous. Expert or not - it’s not your place to sit in such holier-than-thou judgment over someone else.

KellyK August 5, 2010, 7:31 AM

VERY well said!

autumnjade August 6, 2010, 9:25 AM

Wow- YOU ARE ALL IDIOTS. WHo are you to judge the way that this mother has to deal with her child. A kid is resilient, and so what if someone threatens him. Maybe he needed it. Mothers today placate their children, are afraid of punishing or giving them any consequence. This is breeding a generation of whiny, spoiled, arrogant little assholes, who are noticeably more irresponsible than previous generations. You all need a reality check and need to get over your weird new ‘values’ about kids.

Shea August 6, 2010, 9:26 AM

As someone that was a victim of mental, emotional and verbal child abuse, I find what this woman did appalling and *VERY* abusive. It’s *NEVER* ok to bully someone and that’s what she was doing when she made that horrible threat to her child that isn’t much more than a baby. At 4, he has no way of knowing it’s not true, this is the person that is suppose to love, cherish and protect him telling him this. Parents do stuff like this and then wonder why they can’t get their kids night-time potty trained, or why they have night terrors or have other emotional or behavior issues. I spent most of my childhood scared of so many things, as an adult I am still in therapy trying to get past some of the fears that were instilled into me and the anger I have because of what was done to me. People that use threats like this, or of things like “I’ll take you to get a shot” or “I’ll have a policeman come and get you” or “God is watching you and he’s going to punish you…(one that’s always great to use along with the “now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if i should die before I wake, i pray the Lord my soul to take” prayer….that’s good for a lot of night terrors if used just right.) Think before you talk to your kids people!! Am I being judgement of this “mother”? Yes…because no one has the right to abuse or bully anyone and that’s what she did. She bullied her tiny child. If you don’t like what I said, maybe it’s because i have stepped on your toes a bit, if so…go hug your kids and tell them you love them and wonderful and cherished they are and start thinking when you are tired/frustrated/angry with you child before you open your mouth.

Shea August 6, 2010, 10:02 AM

@autumnjade….First of all, your attitude is not very nice at all. Second, let me start off by saying, I am not a “young” mom, I am 43 years old and have raised two really great kids that are now 25 and 15. Both, are polite, well mannered, have never been in trouble and make me very proud. My 15 yr old is a youth delegate at our church, an honor student, active with community service projects and if every parent had a teenager like her, there would be no complaints about teenagers. This was accomplished without belittling her, calling her names, giving her abusive threats,emotional or mental scarring or physical punishment. This was done with love, guidance, active parenting, boundaries,and my kids had consequences for their actions. When they did misbehave they were punished, in a loving and non-abusive and damaging way. You can teach a child and train and guide them and raise a loving, respectful and great kid without emotionally terrorizing them. I have never even screamed at my kids. I never wanted them to live in fear the way I did. I never wanted them to feel afraid, unloved, unwanted, insecure, or have any of the feelings my parents gave me. I was suicidal at 8 years old because of the abuse the was done to me. I wanted and I gave a better life to my kids. I broke the cycle.

Loumin August 6, 2010, 11:32 AM

I dont know about anyone else - but what frightens me more than anything else on this board is that people like ‘autumnjade’ have/will go on to parent and then their children turn out just like them and we have a vicious circle of ‘being mean’ to your kids as ‘the norm’.

I think this article is fantastic, and it scares me that there isnt much common sense in some parenting that people do. I am not perfect but I have 2 lovely, incredibly active, sensitive and friendly children who have their moments like any child does, but if you deal with it constructively - you minimise the drama and have much happier children from it. Not ‘scared out of their mind that their mum doesnt love them and is going to get someone to take them away’ children who will have issues later in life. Im not saying that I dont get angry with my children sometimes, but as the adult in the situation, I take myself away, take a deep breath and then start again.

I wish more people would read this article and learn from it.

Van August 7, 2010, 7:53 AM

I’m with the others who found this article self-righteous and even bitchy. You have no idea what kind of relationship this parent and child have - it’s possible this “threat” was infused with a little humor even a four year old is capable of understanding.
I also agree that parents are not entirely dancing circus bears and that giving a child an awareness of RULES and consequences is not going to scare the kid for life.
By the way, if you haven’t noticed, the climate on airplanes these days does not allow for a whole lot of messing around. Whilst I realize this parent’s comment was not entirely accurate, if an adult “acts up” on an airplane you will find yourself met by police when you land. Those stories are becoming more and more common.
Finally, something tells me this writer does not have any children. I too had all the answers when I was childless - that’s the perfect time to write your book on parenting!

J August 9, 2010, 10:29 AM

Oh how ridiculous. I have a strong suspicion that had this mom been from the North, you would never have thought twice about her comment. Let people parent their own children and stay the hell out of it. Or, better yet, stay on your side of the Mason-Dixon. We all know how y’all like to pretend you’re much smarter than us and we long to be like you, and this is why you have the right to tell us what to do with our lives, how to live, and how to parent. No. Just no. Pathetic. I highly doubt that child is going to be traumatized or left with any other semi-permanent or permanent result from the mother’s off-hand comment. You really need a life, dear.

Liv August 9, 2010, 7:55 PM

This is quite funny. We ‘threaten’ our kids like this when they misbehave…and guess what? They are well-mannered and polite and are growing up with a sense of humor—something that is totally lacking in today’s society!

JennyOndioline August 11, 2010, 9:38 PM

OMG my kids regularly take 8+ hour flights and believe me it’s no picnic. FORTUNATELY they’re good flyers and we’ve never had too much of a problem. We do the frequent trips up and down the aisle as needed, and the movies, and all of it. Sometimes the kids just don’t wanna deal but for the most part it’s all good. I’ve found as a parent that it’s paramount to keep a level head and a positive attitude if you want the flight to go smoothly. Very difficult, but as adults it’s our duty to rise to the occasion. I would never threaten to give my kid the flight attendant because I know he/she would never take him/her! Ha ha I’m finding a lot of humor in this idea cause I would LOVE to have a free babysitter on a flight but such a service doesn’t exist! I wish!

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