Ways to tackle kids kicking the back of the seat, given that you probably can’t cut their legs off, especially with airline security restrictions against sharp objects
A developmental paediatrician once told me most of his patients were three-year-olds. And most of the time, his treatment involved reassuring parents that their child was, in fact, developmentally normal and would probably grow out of it around six, which is the type of “good” news I imagine most didn’t appreciate immediately.
P’s nearly six, and we’re beginning to understand that it’s true. T, on the other hand, is putting the final touches on her transition from pliable baby whose desires – though intense and never-ending – were basic and few, to stroppy threenager who daily struggles with not being the centre of the universe after all.
Plus she’s grown taller.
With that in mind, it seemed a good time to brush up on what we learned about seat-kicking in young travellers before we take our next trip. If you’re a non-parent traveller, have a flick through (and read the comments) to see what you can do about it as well.
Why is that child kicking the seat?
The best treatments target the cause, rather than the symptoms. From what we can gather, our kids kick seats for one of three reasons: fidgets, moodiness, and because the seat isn’t child-sized.
Of these, we’ve found the most frequent reason is the third: the seat isn’t child-sized. This causes their little legs to dangle uncomfortably, and encourages them to brace against the seat in front if they want to change position. It’s not exactly a kick, but it’s still pretty annoying when it happens over and over and over and over and oh! good! grief!
Ways to tackle the wrong-sized seat:
1. Cross-legged sitting.
When P sits cross-legged on his seat, he can adjust his position without bracing against the seat in front. It also keeps his legs from dangling and swinging. This is the single most effective tactic we’ve used.
2. Create a foot-rest.
We’ve found this method to be less effective, but it still has its uses – such as during in-flight meals. We use our carry-on luggage to create a child-sized footrest (something with a hard case is best).
3. Use a car seat.
Sometimes a car seat is more comfortable, or will at least put them at the right height for the in-flight entertainment, making adjustments less necessary.
Note: In the comments, Thrifty Travel Mama tells us her kids tend to kick more when she uses a car seat. It’s probably only worked for us because it’s solved the specific problem that’s causing the kicking – I can imagine it might (for example) make a case of the fidgets worse.
The second-most frequent problem we encounter is what I call The Fidgets. A and I both get horrible crawling sensations in our legs if we sit still for too long, which produces a powerful kicking instinct, much like an itch prompts a scratch. We figure our kids are pretty much doomed to the same fate. In fact, I’m sure everyone gets this and no-one is already drafting a comment about how we should get that seen to.
Ways to tackle The Fidgets:
1. Vigorous pre-flight exercise.
This takes the kinks out of the system in advance.
2. In-flight family exercise sessions.
We’ve had the best success with the toe-drawing game. This is where we ask them to draw… with their toes. They trace shapes, pictures, numbers or the alphabet in the air. There are also instructions for recommended exercises in seat back pockets.
3. Tour the plane.
A few short walks up and down can help keep the fidgets at bay.
4. Leg rubs and massages.
Massaging each other’s calf muscles can reduce the sensations, as can rubbing the fidgety area with the palms of the hands.
5. Controlled fidgetting
I often, for example, sit knee-to-chin and knock my knees together, or pull up and down on my toes.
6. (Update): Standing on the seat.
A completely different Jen to the one mentioned below comments that she sometimes lets her daughter stand on the seat to get rid of the fidgets without resorting to kicks. During periods of low turbulence and at your own risk, of course.
7. Cross-legged or knee-to-chin sitting.
These positions provide natural stretch and control.
Sometimes, we run into problems where the kids are kicking out of boredom or grumpiness. So far this has affected private car trips more than public buses, trains or flights, as if they secretly know there’s less chance of being dumped on the side of the road by their own parents than who-knows-what by who-knows-who. (Hint: this is also why a polite word from a stranger is often the fastest way to stop the problem.)
Ways to tackle boredom and moodiness
2. For when all else fails (as it sometimes does), remember Plan B: symptomatic control.
1. Choose seating wisely, if possible.
Front row/bulkhead seats are great for seat-kickers, as there’s nobody in strike-range. Trains often have facing seats, and buses have a spot up the back with nothing in front.
Alternatively, when travelling with two or more adults, there’s the option to sit in two separate rows, with the seat kicker behind someone they’re related to. If this can’t be arranged ahead of time, other passengers might agree to swap, especially the ones who are in danger of being kicked.
2. Use rear-facing car seats.
In some parts of the world (primarily, it seems, the USA and Europe), you can get rear-facing toddler seats which are approved for passenger aircraft – so the worst your child can do is kick the back of their own seat. If you live in or travel through those regions, it’s something to look into. Hat tip to Jen for this one.
3. (Update): Choose a sleeping flight.
Christy suggests considering a flight during normal sleep times – at nap time or overnight. It’s rare for kids to kick seats when they’re unconscious. Of course, you’ll want to weigh up the pros and cons based on how well they’re likely to sleep and what’s going to happen if they don’t.
4. (Update): Apply reverse psychology.
Yes, that old trick works on seat-kicking as well, according to Emily-Jane. Ask them to really give it a good whack next time and see how quickly they stubbornly refuse to so much as touch it from that moment on.
5. (Update): Take their shoes off.
It’s less enjoyable to kick when your feet are un-armoured – and less irritating for others, too. Corinne McDermott found this solution worked wonders with her young son.
I always learn three or more new things in the comments of these posts, so please share any seat-kicking magic tricks and success stories (or recommendations for health professionals who specialise in fidgetiness/airline-security-friendly leg dissection techniques/etc).