Picture this: you and your family are planning a beautiful vacation. Everything is ready to go except that there is one tiny problem: Yourchild is afraid of flying – so terrified, in fact, that she doesn’t want to come on this trip. Do you change your travel destination, cancel the trip or force her onto the plane? Or is there a way to help her get over her fear?
The good news is that fear of flying ( aerophobia) – a common phenomenon among both children and adults – responds well to various interventions. The following are some tips on how parents can help a child who is afraid to fly:
Acknowledge, Accept and Treat the Fear
Fear of flying is understandable – after all, the airplane is hanging in the sky! It seems like it could easily fall down. And, to top it off, planes do crash and people do die fiery deaths – so fear of flying has to be respected. Let your child know that while you understand and respect her fear, it IS possible to feel differently and, in fact, you yourself are not afraid. Most likely, you have flown more often than your child. Let your child know that because you have experienced the comfort and safety of flying, you actually enjoy being on a plane. You count on arriving to your destination safely, just like you do when you’re driving. Inform your child that flying in a plane is statistically safer than being in a moving car. After giving this information, still accept the child’s fear by saying something like, “but sometimes we can’t help the scary feelings inside even when we know the facts.” Tell the child that there are different things that can make the scary feelings calm down and you are going to help those scary feelings.
Calming Scary Feelings
If your child’s fear is intense, take her to a mental health professional who treats phobias. Often CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) will be helpful. Other treatments that are used quite successfully for phobias in general and fear of flying in particular are EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). If you can’t find a therapist who practices EFT, or if the fear is not overwhelming, you can easily learn EFT yourself and teach it to your child. There are books on EFT and lots of web resources. In addition, you might experiment with a product called Rescue Remedy – a fear-busting Bach Flower Remedy that is available on-line and in health food stores around the world. Rescue Remedy, safe for babies, children and teens, can help calm anxious and panicky feelings. Also ask your child to imagine the whole flight starting with take-off, flying and landing safely. The child should imagine this as often as possible, with and without simultaneous tapping. Keep in mind that teenagers and adults with intense fear of flying may also be able to take anti-anxiety medication to help with the actual flight – talk to your child’s doctor about this particularly if self-help and professional help have failed to reduce the fear to a manageable level.
In anticipation of your child’s anxiety during the flight, it might be best to come prepared with plenty of distractions. Music is traditionally believed to be soothing for a child; taking your mp3 player along can help. Similarly, drawing or coloring can be soothing and distracting, so make sure you pack some books, crayons and pencils. For older kids consider “Zentangle” – meditative doodling (you can find more information online). Cards, board games and movies you both can watch through a portable DVD player or laptop would also be great help. Check with the airline before take off to see whether children’s programming is provided on the plane’s movie and T.V. screen, to save having to bring everything along yourself.
Bring Security Objects
Having something familiar around during a flight can help ease a child’s emotions about flying. Bring a favorite toy, pillow or blanket along for the ride. Older kids can bring photos.
Get a picture book out of the library that explains what pilots and stewardesses do. For older kids, take out books on flying, flying phobias, airplanes and so on, and also access online resources on all aspects of flight and fear. You want to be able to show your child that many people work on planes all day long, flying all the time. This can help bring home the safe nature of this form of travel. For airline professionals, being in the air does not occur once a year on summer vacations, but every day as part of a regular job.
Manage Your Own Fear
Lastly, make sure that you present your child with a calm and reassuring face! Kids take their cue from their parents and other adults. If you are also fearful in the sky, your child may not be able to draw on your reserve of calm energy. Use the interventions above (see “calming scary feelings”) to help yourself overcome your own fears of flying!