Thursday, June 11, 2009

How to Overcome Your Child's Fear of Flying

By Lydie Thomas
from: travel is more fun with kids

Taking the airplane is safe but as we saw this week on the news, with the Air France plane crashing at sea, accidents happen and when they do, they are unlikely to end up with a happy ending.

Children fear of flying can be triggered by watching the news or a movie, reading a book, or people talking about then. I carefully never exposed my daughters to airplanes crashing news. The oldest got confronted to it one September 11th when her elementary school made an announcement for a minute of silence for the people who died in the airplanes that crashed in the twin towers that day. She came home, crying and telling me that she never wanted to go to France again because she did not want to die crashing in towers. I calmed her down and by the next June, she was flying back to France without worries. Still, I would have preferred to talk about this awful event using my own words and not having her hear about it over a speakerphone.

The accident of the Air France plane brought back all these insecurities for all of us and since families will be flying this summer (our family is flying on June 12th), I believe it is the right time to educate ourselves as parents on how to handle our children fear of flying if they experience any.

Tamar Chansky is a child psychologist, parent expert and is the author of the book: Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcoming Your Child's Fears, Worries and Phobias. She shares with us some solutions on children’s fear of flying.

Her solutions:
Start with empathy: if parents just try to talk their kids out of their fears, kids will still be afraid but may also be frustrated because parents aren't listening. Tell your child that it is Ok to be a little afraid, but you want to help him feel better.

Next: the facts: Ask your child what he is afraid of about flying and what he thinks/knows about plane crashes. Make it clear that plane crashes are rare. Recent statistics state that one in every eleven million planes crash. Help make it concrete-- for kids. Eleven million-- imagine how many pennies that would be? That is the population of Ohio!

Sometimes children have been on a flight with a lot of turbulence or get afraid by the normal sounds of the plane-- help them get familiar by "simulating" a flight in your living room. Have the child make the sounds of the wings, the wheels, etc. Car washes are great approximaters of some of the sounds and sensations of a flight.

Next: Coping: ask your child what his worry is telling him about flying, then ask him to "take out his imaginary red pen" and mark the statements as right or wrong. Have the child fill in the "right" answers, e.g., Plane crashes are rare, millions of flights happen every year perfectly. Worrying about this doesn't help, so I'm not going to.

Finally: Ask your child to focus on positive aspects of the trip-- where they are going, what they want to do, etc Gather together activities for the plane to help the time pass faster.

Patricia Vaccarino from Seattle had to deal with her daughter anxiety the hard way when classmates of her then 6 year old daughter died when the Alaska Airlines airplane they were one crashed on its way to Seattle. She shared with me how she dealt with it. Here is her testimony:

‘My intent was to get Sarah on to a plane ASAP to show her that not all planes crash. So the month after the crash, I took Sarah to Disney land. I let Alaska airlines know in advance that Sarah had been in the class that lost four children.

When we arrived at the airport, Sarah was called to board the plane before anyone else. Once she was on the plane, the captain greeted her. He brought her into the cockpit and explained how the plane worked and described safety protocol in a way that she could understand. Then later, mid-flight, the captain sent a note to Sarah that was delivered by a flight attendant to let her know that she was safe. When the flight landed, the captain personally escorted Sarah from the plane.

I think this response by Alaska Airlines made a real difference in Sarah's perceptions about flying and safety. Sarah is now 15 and has no qualms about flying.

A simple call to the air carrier in advance can potentially make all the difference in the world.’

Still feeling anxious?
Carole Lieberman is Beverly Hills psychiatrist for children and adults and she has created the first in-flight entertainment programs used on airlines to help people with fear of flying Shrink on Board. You can order her CDs and DVDs online and have your family experience a very calming and relaxing flight. Click here to watch the trailer.

There is a solution for every fear and the right words and methods will help your children overcome their anxiety about flying.
Lydie's original article can be found here.