Travel can be difficult on everyone, and even more so for kids. They're out of their familiar environment, often tired and stressed, and required to sit still and be quiet for long periods of time. That's a lot to ask for any kid! So, I try to be tolerant and understanding when the little ones are having a bad day.
I've written a lot in the past about how to make flying easier for kids, but sometimes even the best of efforts don't work. Let's face it- some kids are just plain naughty. (I'm not going to debate whether that's a genetic thing or down to the parents- another blog post entirely!)
How I handle naughty kids on the plane depends a lot on what the child's parent/s are doing. Most parents are good and try to handle any misbehaviour themselves. In that case, I will do what I can to assist mum & dad in keeping junior relatively happy and obedient. Sometimes this means distracting them by talking to them or helping them draw a picture, or taking them for a walk to see what we are doing in the galley. Having a new face to look at can be all that the child needs to get out of their bad mood or tantrum. It also give the parents a break and a chance to calm down. I'm a big believer that stressed-out parents pass those vibes along to the kids, so giving everyone a chance for a time-out can be a huge help.
Sometimes we see parents who either don't know or don't care that their kids are being naughty. Some mums and dads think that everything their child does is cute (when in fact they are annoying everyone around them!) The first time around, I assume the parents haven't flown before and don't know what is expected of them. I explain why the child cannot continue to do what s/he is doing and let them know what is acceptable behaviour.
If a child is being allowed to roam around unsupervised, I will tell them to go back to their seat/stop what they are doing/ why they cannot kick the seat in front of them. If the behaviour continues, I will talk to the parents and explain that they must keep their kids in their sight and under control.
In the case that a child is being extremely naughty or doing something unsafe, using sharp words with them can be just what they need. Kids expect a certain reaction to their behaviour and when parents are letting them run amok the kids expect to remain unchallenged. A curt "Go back to your seat!" or "Sit down & be quiet!" can be all that is required to ensure peace and quiet. If that doesn't work, for a smaller child picking them up and taking them back to their seat can be the only option. If mum and dad won't make sure the child behaves, I will! Some parents get unhappy about this, but as cabin crew I have a responsibility to make sure that EVERYONE on the flight is safe & comfortable, and will do what I have to do to make this happen.
Having said that, the more extreme measures outlined above are rarely needed and again, while flight attendants are not babysitters, we are happy to help out where we can. Choose your time to ask wisely & politely, and you'll get the help you need.