10 tips for flying with kids to keep them calm
1 October 2019
The dates for holidays have been fixed, the destination unanimously agreed on within the family, and it is time to think about flight reservations. At this point, with the mere mention of a trip by plane, your child becomes uneasy, even very reluctant. It thus becomes incumbent to defuse his/her fear as soon as possible, if you want to prevent the beginning of the holiday from turning into a nightmare! Here are Little Guest’s 10 tips to helping him/her regain serenity.
Firstly, let’s try to figure out what causes the phobia for flying. There are numerous anxiety-causing factors that can trigger a fear which can become permanent, if neglected.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of items that will help you understand what is going on in your child’s head.
Keep in mind, however, that the best way to help him/her is probably to take the time to talk to him calmly, just before departure, in order to identify his/her real concerns.
- Aerodromophobia, a strange term that signifies fear of airplanes, can ensue from different reasons. The most common of them being, the memory of a bad experience from a previous flight, strong turbulence, a somewhat rash landing, disturbing noises in the cabin or even the loss of luggage on arrival at the airport.
- This phobia may also be related to a mild claustrophobia or agoraphobia and the little feeling of being a “prisoner” on the plane, wherein the child is not be able to express himself/herself or move at ease through the journey.
- You should equally consider exogenous causes during flights, such as an incident while going to the airport, a huge delay in the subway, a bomb threat or waiting too long at the airport.
- Not to mention the alarming information provided by the media on attacks or reports of planes crashes that can of course also aggravate the little ones’ fears.
- Finally, the fear can ensue from a lack of knowledge about the mechanics of the plane that just looks like a large machine, which is very unwieldy and unable to fly as nimbly as a bird for example!
At times, the cause may seem small or anecdotal to us, whereas it could generate an uncontrollable panic reaction for the child. I remember one of my children who wasn’t bold enough to tell me right away that he had seen a part of the plane’s wing move during turbulence and was rather scared that it would come off during the flight. You should therefore pay much attention to your children’s reactions during their first flights in your company.
Our 10 tips on keeping your child from being scared on the plane
1. Identifying the exact cause of the fear or phobia
Strive to determine the cause of the fear, in order to dedramatize the situation with the child and to be able to provide him/her with the appropriate and most reassuring explanations.
2. Acknowledging their fear and never minimize it
If the child isn’t bold enough to talk much about this and you feel an uneasiness in him/her whenever it comes to traveling on a plane, do not hesitate to tell him/her that you’ve noticed that he/she doesn’t look very comfortable with traveling and you could talk about it if he/she wants to. You may also tell him/her that he/she is giving you the impression of not liking on public transport when there are a lot of people and ask him/her to share his/her feelings, if otherwise.
3. Explaining in detail all the plane’s mechanisms
Depending on his/her age, buy him/her a book on planes or surf the internet together with him/her to present show forth detail information on how an airplane operates. It is normal for the aircraft to accelerate very sharply and get on full throttle at takeoff, in order to get the plane flying. This generates a lot of noise and “sticks” us to our seat. As for landing, it can cause a small bounce upon touching the ground. Turbulences cause jolts and vibrations when the plane descends a little because it encounters updrafts, it stirs slightly as in the rides, but it is not dangerous at all. It is also normal to have your ears clogged at times…
Always try to tell him/her the right words even if these words are a little technical, because it will help the child to enter the world of the plane. Children do not like the unknown.
4. Giving him/her all the necessary attention, on the D-Day
Give the child as much details as possible, before leaving the house. This will give him/her reassurance and he/she will feel save and secured when he/she start living the situations you had earlier to him/her. It will thus seem as though everything was going “as planned”.
How do we get to the airport, where is the police control taking place, what will we do during the wait at the airport, what are the boarding procedures, where do we sit on the plane? So many events that you know by heart but that can worry your children if they tend to feel like being on unknown territory.
5. Telling him/her about the aviation safety figures
The plane remains the safest means of transport in the world. There are almost never any accidents, unlike the car we take every day, and which does not seem to scare him/her. If your child is old enough to understand it, you can even go further to tell him that the probability of having an accident while flying is 0.00001% and that a crash could only occur once in 11 000 000 flights. Comparing this with other dangers of everyday life such as car accidents that kill 3000 people each year.
These factual data will allow him/her cool off all scary imaginations and attenuate his/her fear.
6. Taking along something to distract and comfort him/her
Being in and around familiar universe throughout the trip will certainly reassure the child. From teddy bears through board games, tablets, headphones to listen to music or his/her favorite blanket, favorite cookies and why not the candies that are forbidden to him during the year, all measures are good to create a serene and reassuring atmosphere during the flight.
7. Teaching him/her on how to handle stress before and during the trip
This is not always easy because stress often finds pops up in situations that are completely inexplicable or even irrational. But you can easily practice some breathing exercises with him/her, which will focus his attention on something else, thus helping in his/her relaxation. Also try to ensure that he/she starts off the journey being well rested and relaxed. The day before, put him/her to bed early and help him/her fall asleep with a bed-story (for the little ones) or by talking quietly with him/her (for the older ones).
8. Talking to him/her about the highly qualified flight attendants
A dozen people are dedicated to the service of passengers during a flight. A hostess will take care of him/her during the trip and can also answer his/her questions. There are two pilots who provide information on the weather and the route the plane takes. And finally, a team of very competent mechanics carefully checks each plane before its departure to ensure that there is no mechanical problem. You can also tell the hostess of his/her discomfort so that she can be attentive vis-à-vis him/her and reassures him/her when necessary.
9. Telling him/her that you too were scared on your first flight!
Children tend to identify with their parents. Thus, knowing that their parents have experienced the same worries they are currently experiencing greatly helps to reassure them.
10. And most importantly, being in control, if you too are scared on the plane!
Nevertheless, be rest assured, statistics show that 20 to 30% of the population have a phobia for airplanes and that there are several solutions on getting rid of it, by calling on psychologists, child psychiatrists or other specialists in behavioral therapy. Some airlines have even taken the problem into consideration. Air France organizes internships called “Taming the plane” during which one learns more about the operation of a flight; more so with the help of a flight simulator and discussions with aviation professionals, as well as sophrologists.
Last but not least
Some reading tips to prepare for your flight:
For the 5-6 years old, this book called “Going on a Plane” by Anne Civardi is very efficient!
The publishers of Tricycle Press have released a book named “The Noisy Airplane Ride” by Mike Downs, which will reassure all children!
If you want to get more information about the conditions and the administrative formalities for international travel with your kid(s), we warmly recommend this very complete article about parental authorization.
Have a good trip, and above all … have a good flight!
Catherine, married, Justine’s mom, from Paris