With more people being able to fly abroad now, I’ve been getting a few questions about what you should do if your child is scared about a flight.
Being scared about travelling by aeroplane is a totally understandable feeling. It’s also worth remembering that many young children haven’t been on an aeroplane before, perhaps due to the pandemic. And whilst it could be difficult to completely overcome this fear, there are ways you, as a parent, can help your child with their worries. As with everything involving children, if their anxiety over the situation is concerning you- speak to a medical professional.
⁃ Listen– It’s important not to sweep their worries ‘under the carpet’ by telling them ‘oh don’t worry about that’ or ‘don’t be silly’. Instead we should be listening properly to their concerns and helping to come up with solutions. Bottling up worries isn’t helpful. And children need to know that their worries are heard.
⁃ Provide reassurance– Reassure your child that everything will be ok when they go on the aeroplane. For older children you could explain how safe aeroplanes are and all the safety features they have.
⁃ Play – I’m a huge believer in the importance of using play to help younger children with new situations. Often children worry about things when they don’t know what exactly will be happening. You can help with this by setting up a pretend airport with their toys and role playing one of their toys going to the airport. Their toy could arrive at the airport, check their bags in, sit in the departure lounge and then go onto the aeroplane. This will help your child to remember the stages of an aeroplane journey and build their confidence.
⁃ Visual Aids– another way to help children to pre-empt what will happen is through visuals. You could use photographs or drawings of the stages of going on a flight, to help children visualise what will happen. It may be helpful to take this with you to refer to during the day to reduce any anxiety about what’s coming up next.
⁃ Read– There are some lovely books around about flying in an aeroplane. It might be worth buying some or borrowing a selection from your local library – again, to help your child to visualise what will happen on the day.
⁃ TV- Another helpful tool is the TV! Try looking for Children’s programmes about going on an aeroplane for the first time.
How can you help children feel calm when flying?
Once you’re on the aeroplane there’s lots of ways you can help entertain your child and keep them relaxed and calm. I’ve written a book called ‘100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play ‘ and inside it there is a whole chapter on activities children can do whilst ‘sitting still’, which are perfect for flights.
Other ways to help your child on the flight are:
⁃ Distractions – Take a small selection of toys/games that they can play with on the flight. It may be a good idea to ration them, bringing out different resources throughout the flight to keep their interest. There’s also no harm in using screen time to help!
⁃ Sweets– Whilst normally I wouldn’t be advising giving your children lots of sweets, the take off and landing can be particularly uncomfortable for little one’s ears- having a sweet or lollipop to suck (if they are old enough and it doesn’t pose a choking risk) can be particularly helpful. For younger children, sucking a dummy or a bottle can be helpful too.
⁃ Plan Toilet Trips– Plan your toilet trips carefully, theres nothing worse than your child telling you they need the toilet when the seatbelt lights come back on for landing! It’s also a long wait to get from the plane through to arrivals, so encourage your child to try to go to the toilet before the plane starts its descent.
⁃ Music– Listening to music via headphones can be really relaxing for children of all ages and helps to distract them from their concerns. Some children may also enjoy listening to an audio book to pass the time.
⁃ Snacks – Bringing along some snacks that you know they enjoy is useful if they don’t enjoy the plane food. It’s very common for children to dislike different foods, or be apprehensive about trying them. And a plane is definitely not the time to pick this battle! Snacks also provide a good distraction and break up the journey.
⁃ Clothes – It’s vital that children feel comfortable during the flight, in order for them to feel calm and relaxed. The temperature on the flight can change and be quite cool, so take layers with you to help them adjust to the temperature change.
⁃ Be positive– children learn how to respond to situations from us adults! So try your best to remain calm and positive throughout the flight to help them (I know how difficult this can be though!)
⁃ Lanyard – many airports now provide lanyards for adults and children with hidden disabilities. If your child qualifies for one, it’s definitely worth contacting the airline or airport in advance to find out more about one. The lanyard will help highlight to staff that you may need some extra assistance, without you having to tell them directly.