How to Reduce Flying Anxiety in Kids

Опубликовал Admin
29-07-2021, 12:40
A family vacation that should be exciting and fun throughout can be derailed right from the start by a child with significant anxiety about flying. Fear of flying is common among people of all ages, but can be particularly difficult to handle in children. Thankfully, there are numerous techniques you can employ to reduce flying anxiety in kids, without necessarily resorting to medication. With some planning, persistence, and patience, you stand a much better chance of making the flight itself an enjoyable part of your trip.

Empowering Your Child

  1. Ask questions about your child’s flight fears. Talking to your child about his or her fears will not make them worse, and it is the first step toward empowering your child to overcome the anxiety. Don’t interrogate your child, but feel free to ask probing questions about the sources and specifics of the fear of flying.
    • A child's fear of flying often boils down to one of the following: an inability to conceive of how a heavy airplane can remain in the air; a fear of enclosed spaces and/or being limited in what you can do when you want to do it; bad prior experiences, or tales of bad experiences from others; media reports of plane crashes, air security threats, or bad flight experiences.
    • Probe into the causes of the fear by validating and empathizing with it: "The first time I flew, I was terrified that the plane would fall out of the sky. What do you think about that?" Make educated guesses based on your observations: "I've noticed that you get uncomfortable in crowded spaces, like the subway car that one time. Is that something that bothers you about an airplane?" Or, simply give them an invitation to talk: "Tell me what you think about our airplane trip that's coming up."
    • The more specific information you know about the nature of your child’s flying fears, the more specific your approach to dealing with it can be.
  2. Offer information on how planes fly. It is easy to find mountains of data about how safe flying is, such as that the most dangerous part of your trip is the drive to the airport, and so on (see this wikiHow article for some statistics and examples). Statistics alone, though, won’t make a child’s anxiety about getting onto a plane go away. Talking about and showing a child how planes fly is more likely to be an effective strategy.
    • Provide your child with books about airplanes and flying, toy replicas of airplanes, and videos about flight. Look up answers to his or her questions together. Build and try out small flying machines with your child. If you have an aviation museum nearby, go look at planes and maybe even sit in the cockpit. Let your child talk to the flying experts there.
  3. Let the child see airplanes in action. Long gone are the days when a family could take an easy jaunt over to the international airport to watch the planes from around the world take off and arrive. However, there still exist opportunities to watch airplanes in action, and this type of experience can instill confidence in a fearful child.
    • Try starting at a small airfield or regional airport. Find a (permitted) spot where you can watch smaller planes take off and land, and talk about the process of what is happening (and the experience on the inside of the plane). If you can find a pilot willing to talk a bit about flying, all the better.
    • While modern security restrictions make it much more difficult to get up-close views of departing and arriving jetliners at a big airport, you may still be able to find opportunities for doing so with your child (that won’t cause a security alert).
  4. Talk about all the people that work to make flying safe. Inform your wary child that there are literally dozens of people whose job it is to make sure the plane is safe and ready to go. Talk about safety engineers and the pilots, and point out the ground crew and flight attendants.
    • The layers of security present at big airports can be intimidating and worrisome for small children. Talk to your child about how all the security officers and the machinery and checkpoints they use are there to make flying safer.
  5. Emphasize “gradual desensitization.” Information and familiarity are enemies of anxiety, especially when acquired methodically. Each step along the way to familiarizing your child with how planes fly, the process of flying, and the people behind the flight can help to reduce flight anxiety in kids.
    • Gradual desensitization is a slow, step-by-step approach to helping someone become more comfortable with a situation or circumstance that causes anxiety. For instance, someone who is terrified of bees may read books and watch videos; go "flower-watching" and talk about how important bees are to pollination; talk to a beekeeper and watch him or her work from a safe distance; put on a bee suit and get closer to a man-made hive; and, eventually, perhaps be able to approach a hive without gear.
    • Start early, and take your time in helping your child become more comfortable with the concept of flying in a plane. Don’t wait until the last minute, and move at the child’s pace. If it takes a few trips to the airfield or museum to establish a comfort level with flying, so be it. It will be worth the effort when it’s time to fly.

Preparing for Flight Day

  1. Visualize the details of the flight. As the day of your flight draws near, it may be helpful to conduct a “walk-through” of the process to come — the sights, the sounds, the experience of getting onto a plane and flying. For younger children who have not flown before in particular, the uncertainty about what to expect can often be a major source of flight anxiety.
    • Try to describe as many details as possible about lining up, showing your boarding pass, finding your seat on the plane, etc. Talk about the sound of the idling plane, the feel of picking up speed on the runway, and that moment when the wheels cease contact with the ground. Be thorough and imaginative, and break up the process into simple, manageable pieces.
  2. Manage your own anxiety. If you are anxious about flying, or are anxious about how your child is going to react to flying, he or she will pick up on your discomfort. Don’t just try to “put on a brave face” for your child, though — addressing your own anxiety ahead of time will make you more capable of handling your kid’s stress about flying.
    • Ideally, your method for dealing with your own anxiety will leave you lucid, alert, calm, and ready to be present and helpful for your child. Medication, therefore, may not be your best first option. See How to Overcome a Fear of Flying as a good starting point for reducing your own anxiety so that you can help reduce your child’s.
    • Anxiety-reduction and stress relief strategies that work for you can also work for your child. Exercise is often an effective method, so a brisk walk around the airport may help. Children can also quickly pick up on deep breathing exercises (slowly and deeply inhaling, holding for a moment, and releasing slowly). Meditation or mindfulness exercises may take a bit more work with some kids, but can also be quite effective. And, a good night's sleep the night before and a healthy meal the day of the flight always helps.
  3. Bring distractions and comfort items. Whether it is flying or some other anxiety-producing activity, familiar comforts can ease the fears caused by unfamiliar circumstances, and plain old distractions can help pass the time and keep a child’s mind occupied. Now is not the time to take a hard-line approach to your child’s figurative (or literal) security blanket — if it helps and is a reasonable item for a plane ride, allow it.
    • Movies, music, books, games, puzzles, and any number of other distractions can help reduce anxiety before and during the flight. Playing “I spy” or some other similar game with your child during the flight may provide distraction and comfort to both of you. And, for that matter, a nice long nap (ideally of the non-medicated variety) is a good in-flight “distraction” as well.
  4. Inform the flight crew about your child's flight anxiety. Flight crews are trained to deal with anxious passengers, including children, and do deal with them on a regular basis. One or more members of your plane’s crew will likely be happy to provide a little extra attention and information to your anxious child. After all, they probably know all too well that it is better to calm fears right from the start instead of letting them erupt into a tantrum or panic attack.
    • You don’t need to use a “sorry, but you’re going to have your hands full with my kid on this flight” type of approach. Instead, tell an attendant at the start of the flight something along the lines of “this is my child’s first flight, and she is very curious and a bit nervous.”

Engaging with Your Child’s Flight Anxiety

  1. Find out if your child has a general or specific anxiety issue. Fears and anxieties can be tricky things to pin down, especially for children. The source of anxiety and the time, place, and method of its expression do not always line up. An apparent fear of flying, for instance, may actually be rooted in an anxiety that is unrelated to flying but which presents itself in that situation.
    • If your child has a more general anxiety issue that presents itself in other situations, such as in school, interactions with other people, etc., it should be addressed in a more comprehensive manner than simply getting him or her ready for a flight. Talk to your child’s physician or a behavioral professional about your best options.
  2. Validate your child’s anxiety about flying; never downplay or ignore it. Ignoring fears and waiting for your child to outgrow them is just as likely to cause them to grow more severe over time. Likewise, telling a child that “big boys and girls don’t worry about silly things like that” will probably just make things worse by adding new layers of anxiety. Be compassionate, understanding, and active in helping your child address a fear of flying.
    • Fears need not be rational to be real. Validate your child’s anxiety by accepting it and addressing it, even if the basis for it is irrational. Don’t talk about it being “foolish” or “childish” to worry about flying; talk about ways you can work together to confront and overcome the anxiety.
  3. Find and utilize additional resources. If your child’s fear of flying is severe or longstanding, consider looking into professional assistance. Seek out a child psychologist or therapist with experience in dealing with childhood phobias, and flight anxiety in particular if possible. It will certainly be a worthwhile investment if it gives your child a lifetime of panic-free flying (and reduces your anxiety as a parent in the process).
    • Medications such as tranquilizers are an option for children with severe flight anxiety issues. Discuss the topic with your child’s pediatrician.
    • However, anti-anxiety medications may simply temporarily mask the anxiety and in fact help it to increase over time (think of it as bandaging a wound without cleaning it). In most cases, medication should not be a first resort; try gradual de-sensitization and other techniques first.
Users of Guests are not allowed to comment this publication.