Aerophobia affects people of all ages, including children. And while kids may experience the fear of flying differently than adults, it still affects a family’s ability to travel together. Here I’ll explain how this phobia manifests itself in little ones, and how parents can help their children overcome it.
Why Are Some Kids Afraid of Flying?
As with grownups, there’s no one single explanation. For some, it may be an extension of the fear of enclosed spaces or of heights. Others may have suffered a previous traumatic experience on a flight, which can cause anxiety and fear in its wake. In addition, children can feel uncomfortable and frightened by the loud noises, turbulence, and lack of control they may experience during a flight. It’s also important to remember that children depend on their parents to feel safe, so it’s possible they can learn that airplanes are “dangerous” if either parent expresses a fear of flying.
How This Phobia Manifests Itself
Some children may have trouble sleeping before a flight, which often includes nightmares about the flight. Children may also show anxiety, cry, or have panic attacks before or during a flight. Additionally, some children may fear being separated from their parents or caregivers during a flight and express high irritability.
How Parents Can Help Their Children Overcome
First of all, parents should talk to their children about the flight and what they can expect from it. It is important to be honest with them and explain that noise and turbulence can occur, emphasising that this is completely normal. It is also helpful to prepare children by talking about how they will feel and how they can handle the various emotions you experience.
In addition, the ideal is that parents provide emotional support to their children during the flight. This implies feeling calm and safe during that time, and being able to transmit that tranquility to your children.
Some flights can be very long for children’s patience so it’s useful to bring toys, books or games to keep them entertained and distracted.
Finally, if the fear persists over time, it’s important to consider the possibility of seeking professional help. Mental health pros can work with kids to identify the underlying cause of their fears and address the problem so that they can fly feeling more confident.
With the right help, children can feel more comfortable and enjoy worry-free family travel.
Founder of the Lanzas Institute, David Lanzas is a psychologist specialising in anxiety and trauma
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