With the Wings over Vermont Airshow coming to town this weekend, parents have been flying up to me asking me what they can say to their children who have never been in a plane before to reduce their fear of flying. Fasten your seatbelts and let me provide some information on this topic.
Studies suggest that one out of six people have a fear of flying, which means some of these people may be children, perhaps yours. Often fear of flying is not really about fear of the plane itself but of something else bothering your child, such as fear of heights, enclosed spaces, crowds, or being restrained and not in control.
So how do you help your child conquer that fear of flying? I have some suggestions.
First, talk to your child ahead of the flight to find out what they are concerned about. It’s possible that their concern is not what you suspect it is, such as their getting lost in the airport rather than their being afraid of getting into the plane itself.
Please don’t ridicule their fears. Instead let them know you are there to help them get through whatever their concerns might be. If fear of flying seems to be the issue for your young child, you can watch videos of planes taking off or read books about planes together, or even do a pretend flight in your living room and make the noises of the plane taking off and landing.
You can then give your child a toy plane to mimic what happens during a flight. Explain the importance of their needing to stay in their seat and buckled up during the flight. Make sure they know about the TSA security process as well, so they don’t think their belongings are being taken from them.
When you do get on the plane, be prepared with things to distract your child, especially during a long flight, such as favorite stuffed animals, games, books, music to listen to, videos to watch or snacks to eat. The flight crew is trained to help reduce a child’s nervousness or fear during a flight, so if you feel you could use a little help, speak with someone on the crew.
Finally as a parent, stay calm throughout the flight even if your child isn’t. Also be positive and note how much fun it is to be going up in the air as you head to a destination that your child looks forward to visiting.
Hopefully with appropriate preparation and the tips I have shared, your child’s fears will take off and disappear, and you’ll find yourself and your child making a smooth landing when it comes to doing away with their fear of flying.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.