Elly Kulesza: Parenting skills aren’t the problem

By | January 28, 2007

The news media and the net are awash in opinions about Gerry and Julie Kulesza, the couple whose 3-year-old daughter Elly threw such a tantrum before take-off on an AirTran flight that the airline removed them from the flight.

Many of those opinions are blisteringly critical of the Kuleszas’ parenting skills. It is really astounding how many people feel qualified to judge the parenting skills of people they’ve never met and know nothing about except that their daughter threw a bad tantrum in an airplane.

Here are some clues for those people:

  • Three-year-olds throw tantrums.
  • Even the best 3-year-olds with the best parents sometimes throw tantrums.
  • Some kids’ tantrums can last a very, very long time.
  • Kids who are in the habit of throwing tantrums are more likely to do so in unfamiliar situations or when surrounded by strangers.
  • Trying to calm down a child having a tantrum usually makes the tantrum worse.
  • Kids throwing tantrums is not a sign of bad parenting.

Alas, there is still room to criticize the Kuleszas’ actions, albeit perhaps not their parenting skills. Here are some clues for them:

  • You don’t have the right to delay an entire plane full of people while trying to calm down your daughter’s tantrum.
  • Delayed flights have repercussions not only on that flight but on many later flights handled by the same plane.
  • When you were unable to calm down your daughter and get her buckled in her seat, it was perfectly reasonable for the airline to ask you to leave the plane. In fact, they didn’t really have much of a choice.
  • When your child is being unreasonably disruptive to others, it is your responsibility to remove your child. You have no right to place the needs of your family ahead of the needs of many others. Would you refuse to remove a shrieking child from a movie theater?
  • The airline did their best to accommodate your family after removing you from the plane. You should have worked with them instead of spitting in their faces.
  • Calling a newspaper reporter to make a stink about what happened was just stupid. What did you expect would happen when you did that?
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9 thoughts on “Elly Kulesza: Parenting skills aren’t the problem

  1. jik Post author


    I have five kids and have flown with multiple children, at various different ages including three, on numerous occasions, including a number of extremely long international flights. My children have never given other passengers any reason to complain. You could attribute that to how wonderful my children are, but it’s more likely attributable to how wonderful my wife is at preparing the children in advance for the flight, making sure they know what to expect and what is expected of them, and at bringing the appropriate supplies on the plane (snacks, coloring books and crayons, toys, story books, etc.) to ensure that they are sufficiently distracted.

    In any case, as I said in the blog entry above, I don’t think Elly Kulesza deserves to be criticized for what happened, nor do I think the Kuleszas deserve to be faulted for the fact that their child had a tantrum, but they sure as hell deserve to be faulted for how they handled it and how they behaved in the aftermath of being removed from the plane.

  2. Shelly-Ann Jones

    come on guys u r talking about a 3 year old, who is still a baby. I guess most of u DON’T have kids, so u have nothing better to say!!!!!! g

  3. jerry p

    I’m a pilot and a friend of mine is also another pilot who sat on this flight. It wasn’t that the kid was crying so much. The brat would not sit down and the parents didn’t pick her up and sit her down they just tried to talk to her and no attempts to pick her up and force her to sit down.

    It is illegal for a plane to taxi if a passenger is not fastened in. its in the FAA/FAR (federal aviation rules). The airline could actually be shut down as well. Plus 112 other passengers simply because the parents asked the girl what she wanted to do. Basically bad parents are the ones who try to be cool and be their kids friends, rather than the authoritarian figure needed.

  4. mazi johnson

    To be buckled in is required. Period. For everyone. Period. Screaming children are allowed (altho I wish that was not so). People seem to make remarks before they know all the facts. Educate yourself, please.

  5. Elle Kasey

    I’m with you Barbara Z Dick, air travel is stressful and uncomfortable for everyone – all of use give up freedoms and leeway for things that might be acceptable under different circumstances and being trapped on a plane with a screaming, tantrum-filled child is too much to ask of anyone. Good for AirTran.

  6. Barbara Z Dick

    Hooray for AitTran! What difference does it make if they are “good parents” or “bad parents”. There is no valid reason to impose the behavior of their three year old on their fellow passengers. If the child cannot behave in public it is too young to fly. Drive or get sleeper on a train.

  7. jik Post author

    Buckled into an airplane seat is not a safe place for a 3-year-old throwing a violent tantrum. Children can injure themselves during a tantrum if it isn’t handled properly.

    Forcing the child into the seat and forcing her to be buckled would surely have worsened the tantrum and made the child even more hysterical. Even if she had been buckled into her seat, there’s no way the crew would have been willing to take off if she was in the midst of a hysterical tantrum and her parents were unable to calm her down. Obviously, if a child throws a tantrum when the plane is already in the air, then the crew has no choice but to continue the flight (although it’s worth noting that planes have in some case been diverted as a result of adult “tantrums”). However, I honestly can’t imagine that they would choose to start a flight with a child in that condition.

    Children who are in the midst of tantrums hit. This is not the sign of a juvenile delinquent, it’s simply a sign of a child throwing an out-of-control tantrum.

    It’s rather easy for armchair parents to pass judgment on others and declare that any parents with a 3-year-old who throws violent tantrums are bad parents. It is exactly this kind of passing judgment on other people’s parenting which I refuse to do and categorically reject.

  8. lenona

    Um, WHY is it not a sign of bad parenting when TWO adults can’t seem to think of holding down a 3-year-old and buckling her in FIRST, then calming her down LATER? Sure, she’d have screamed louder and longer, maybe, but it really doesn’t take a lot of brains to think of doing that, since the plane had to leave on time. So far as I’ve heard, they were not “unable,” as you claim. They were just too chicken to ruffle a 3-year-old’s sense of rights. (Maybe they also foolishly thought holding down a child would prompt a call to the police, just as a public spanking might.)
    Not to mention that the 3-year-old hit her mother. Many would say that IS too old to be doing that, because she be too afraid of the consequences to do that. Hence, accusations of bad parenting.
    Finally, if the family is going to go on TV and twist the facts (they said nothing on GMA about the girl’s “refusal” to be buckled) that looks a lot to me like a family that’s going to cover up for their child’s crimes in the future. (“She’s only 10, it wasn’t stealing!”) Unless they manage to learn that eyewitnesses are everywhere and WILL talk.

  9. Missy

    Brilliant analysis (and seemingly obvious in its thoughtfulness. ) I don’t even have kids, and I hate being tortured by exposure to tantrums, but I DO recognize they come with the human territory.


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