I think Chinaguy started a thread about this once–or else contributed to a similar thread, having had experience flying over the ocean with a wee one. Lots of good suggestions there.
Take snacks that take a longer time to eat, like cheerios or goldfish. I always buy my son something new to do or play with. I often bring flash cards with pictures, or “Color Wonder” coloring books. Now that he’s three, we also always take our laptop so he can watch a DVD or play some computer games–this really makes the time go fast.
Benadryl revs some little kids up, so I wouldn’t use it. I suppose you could try a test run before the flight.
Houston probably has a kids’ play area somewhere. Plan on using it. Four hours is actually a good layover with kids. We had three hours in Minneapolis at Christmas, and it ended up being wonderful. We didn’t have to rush to our connecting gate. We went to the play area (which in MSP is especially good) and I sent my husband off to have a decent sit-down dinner while I chatted with the other parents in the play area.
I worry less about ideal behavior in the airport. Let the kids get their energy out while they still have room to move. If you start admonishing them every breathing moment when you’re checking in for the flight, imagine how sick they’ll be of listening to you by taxi and takeoff. I used to be so tense about being the “good parent” with the “angelic little traveler” that I got on the poor kid’s case the minute we put the suitcase in the car. I have since learned better.
Another tip: start engaging them in play before they get bored or cranky. Don’t wait for them to NEED your attention before giving it to them.
And if they cry or get cranky, hey, that is what kids do sometimes, plane or no plane. Do your level best to handle it well, but realize that everyone on the plane gets sick of sitting and being cramped and breathing stale air and being told to fasten their seatbelts. Toddlers just express it more. There ARE people (and I’m not saying Dooku is one of them) who have an attitude about childrens’ mere presence on an airplane. I’ve seen people roll their eyes and even groan when we came to their aisle. Unbearably rude–just remember that even if your kids act up, they’ve got a better excuse for their behavior than those adults ever will for theirs. Heh.
Finally, your kids are human, too. You paid for their ticket just like everyone else paid for theirs. This is my mantra when I encounter those rare people who act like they have a right to determine who deserves to be on the plane.
Generally, my kid has always done better than expected.