More than 40 percent of people have at least some level of anxiety about flying, ranging from a mild uneasiness to a full-on phobia. However, most adults are able to cope with the fear, finding ways to calm their own emotions and travel from point A to point B without incident.
But what happens when the person who is afraid to fly is a little one? Kids often have fears that may or may not be based in reality (monsters under the bed, for example) and when they are faced with a new experience, like flying, their imaginations run wild. Adults can rationalize their fears or at least express them appropriately, but children don’t usually have those skills, and their anxiety or fear about flying can manifest itself as inappropriate behavior on the plane or emotional fits before, during and after the flight.
But having a child who is afraid to fly doesn’t mean that you have to pass on cheapvacation packages and other great travel deals and stick to day trips or destinations you can reach via car. By taking time to listen to your child and finding creative ways to address and allay his or her fears, you can all enjoy a getaway — and who knows, your child may find flying to be a wonderful adventure!
Getting to the Root of the Problem
The first step to helping your child overcome any fear, whether it’s the monster in the closet or getting on an airplane, is to determine the root cause of the problem. Sometimes, the answer is obvious: Your child saw or heard about a plane crash on the news and is afraid the same thing will happen to your flight. Usually, though, it takes more digging to get to bottom of things. Ask your child why he or she is afraid to fly — and really listen. Avoid telling your child his fears are silly or that he is being ridiculous; to the child, the fears are real. By discounting them, you are effectively telling your child that his or her feelings don’t matter.
When your child tells you why he or she is afraid to fly, or is showing signs of anxiety about your upcoming trip, try to find solutions to the problem. Provide reassurance – “Mommy and Daddy will be right there with you the whole time,” and provide explanations for things that aren’t familiar. Older children may benefit from hearing about statistics. Share that millions of planes have taken off and landed safely without incident, and the chances of a problem are very, very slim. Simply acknowledging their fears and answering questions can go a long way toward easing anxiety.
Another technique is to focus on the destination rather than the plane trip. For example, if you’re going to Disney World, talk about the fun you will have when you arrive and the things you plan to do. While on the plane, remind your child about where you are going and give her something to look forward to divert her attention from any anxiety.
What to Expect
Many small children become anxious when their routines are disrupted, or when they don’t know what to expect. And while many children will be excited to be in the airport and to see all of the new things, the entire experience can be overwhelming.
For that reason, prepare your little one for what’s to come by explaining the process ahead of time. Talk about security and what you’ll need to do, and then explain what will happen when you board the plane, from finding your seat through landing. Reassure your child that you will have snacks, and that he can bring along a favorite stuffed toy or blanket; let him help you pack a small backpack with quiet toys or games or choose movies to watch while you’re in the air.
Be prepared to explain the many noises and sensations that an airplane makes as well. Some children can become anxious when they hear the landing gear, for example, or the revving of the engines as the plane takes off. Again, explaining what will happen — and making it sound fun — will go a long way toward reducing anxiety.
Of course, not all children experience anxiety when flying and you want to be careful not to unnecessarily introduce fears that may not be there. However, even if your little one doesn’t show signs of fear, take a few minutes to explain what will happen to avoid any meltdowns from happening out of the blue. Above all, maintain your patience and sense of humor, and everyone will enjoy your flight experience.
About the Author: As the mother of two small children, blogger Patty Carlisle has dealt with almost every fear there is.