You’re 35,000 feet in the air, somewhere over the Pacific. You’re tired, you’re bored, but above all, you’re terrified.
The aircraft has hit another patch of turbulence, and you bounce around in your seat, knuckles white and grasping the armrests for dear life. You have visions in your mind of tomorrow’s news headlines: Plane Plunges into Ocean, None Survive.
And why does everyone around you look so calm? Everyone, that is, except the cute little one next to you, who before you boarded this flight, looked up to you with utter faith and confidence. Now your child’s eyes are wide, confused and accusing, as if to say, “Mummy, what have you done to me?!”
If your heart races every time you near an airport, or if your child refuses to get on the plane, you’re certainly not alone. At least one in six adults are afraid of flying to some degree, and for a child who has never been out of his comfort zone before, all the new sights, sounds and feelings can be very overwhelming indeed.
Even to the most seasoned of airplane travellers, hairy situations can happen. A nearby storm, a mighty wind, an especially nasty patch of turbulence, a bumpy landing…Every strange sound or sudden bump can be absolutely terrifying to someone who hasn’t flown in an airplane before – especially young children.
So are all your future family holidays now doomed to be land-based?
By understanding some of the causes of aviophobia (or the fear of flying), just maybe will you finally be able to enjoy jetting off around the globe with family in tow.
More often than not, having a fear of flying has little to do with being scared about the actual act of getting on a plane and soaring through the sky. Fears of heights, enclosed spaces, crowds or not being in control can manifest themselves into a fear of flying.
For children, their fears are more likely to stem from not understanding what is going on (or not understanding the new environment with all its strange noises and movements) or are simply reflections of their parent’s anxieties. Children are very intuitive, especially when it comes to their parents, so when they sense something unusual about mum or dad (such as fear or stress), they tend to react to that sympathetically. So before you take your child on the plane, work on calming your own worries first!
As many psychologists have studied, sometimes the fear can stem from a bad memory. Try to remember the last flight you had – perhaps you or your child got very sick, or lost your luggage (and your child’s favourite teddy bear…). Maybe the trip didn’t go as smoothly as planned or even that flight was turbulent. Or perhaps your child remembers that uncomfortable popping feeling in his ears and is afraid to feel it again.
There is a chance that this upsetting memory is what is being subconsciously related to airplanes and flying. Once you figure out what is bothering you and understand why it bothers you, then you can begin to think ahead to making new and good memories about flying.
One of the best ways to conquer any fears is to smother it with facts. Some helpful ones to note:
- Flying is one of the safest means of transport, second only to riding an escalator or lift. You’re many times more likely to be injured or killed during the drive to the airport, or by the food served on the flight, than by the airplane itself!
- Airplanes are built to take the bumps—and much bigger ones than you’re ever likely to encounter. Let your child know (or keep telling yourself!) that turbulence is just like a bump on the road in a car, and just like a patch of bumpy road, won’t last the whole trip. In the meantime, let your body relax into the motion of the aircraft.
- Understand what the different noises and motions are, and explain this to your child. Let them know that the “clunk” noise is the landing gear going up, and that slowed-down feeling before landing does not mean the engine has stopped!
Make sure you plan ahead of your flight, as well. Try to get a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible, as turbulence is felt more at the back of the aircraft than the front. Bigger airplanes also absorb turbulence and noise better, so try to book a flight on the largest plane possible. If you know that your or your child’s fear is extreme, don’t push your luck by taking a really long flight. Shorter trips can do wonders for slowly working through one’s fears. And when you check in, let the staff know about the fear – you may find that they’ll be extremely nice and helpful to you!
If you still find yourself digging your fingernails into the seat as the plane ascends, or if your child still screams at the tops of his little lungs, try to stay as distracted as possible. Read a book (or read to your child if he’s too young), watch the inflight movies, play games together and try to sleep as much as possible, especially for long flights.
To keep your child’s mind off of the flight, have a cache of toys at hand, and give them to your child one at a time, so that he plays with it until he gets tired of it and then moves onto the next one. You can even try wrapping each toy up as a gift, to add to the excitement. This sense of “newness” will prevent him from getting bored of playing, and keep his mind off of what’s happening around him!
And think positive!
Keep talking to your child about how much fun is to be had at your destination. Discuss all the great activities you’ll enjoy, the cool new things you’ll see and the people you’ll meet. Your excitement for the trip will help breed his excitement. And once your child gets excited about actually being there, he just may stop worrying about how he’s getting there.
Make as much use as possible of the flight attendants and their trolleys full of goodies. Each time they pass offering a drink or a snack, don’t refuse. Not only will this steady stream of food and beverage help the time pass quicker, the drinks will prevent dehydration and the snacks will keep blood sugar levels up – adding to a sense of general well being and preventing any possible airsickness.
And don’t forget to breathe! If your child seems especially wound up, remind him to take deep breaths. For young children, you can even try demonstrating with some “silly” breathing – such as panting like a dog – to help lighten up the mood. You may look a bit funny to your fellow passengers, but nothing beats a bit of fear like a good old-fashioned giggle fit.