Soaring Through a Fear of Flying

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.  Well, fasten your seat belts and let me provide some information on this topic.

Fear of Flying Is Very Common

Studies suggest that one out of six of us have a fear of flying which means some of these people may be children, perhaps yours.  So how do you help your child conquer that fear of flying?  Here are some suggestions:

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Flying

First talk to your child ahead of the flight to find out what they are concerned about—which may not be 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—but instead let them know you are there to help them get through whatever their concerns might be. 

Get Comfortable With Flying Safely

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 as you go through that pretend flight with your child. You can then give your child a toy plane to mimic what happens during a flight.

Buckle Up for Safety Guidelines

Explain the importance of their needing to stay in their seat buckled up during the flight and make sure they know about the TSA security process as well, so they don’t think their belongings are being taken from them.

Plan Ahead To Get Ahead

Getting to the airport in plenty of time allows the experience to be a relaxing and less stressful one for everyone. If your child senses you are stressed, they will be too. 

When you do get on the plane, be prepared as well with things like your child’s favorite stuffed animal, games, books, music to listen to, videos to watch or snacks to eat so as to distract your child especially during a long flight. Letting the plane crew know of your child’s fear will help them help you and your child get over their concerns. 

Model Airplanes? No, Model Behaviors

Finally parents—stay calm yourselves, even if your child is anything but. 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 fly away, 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 University of Vermont College of Medicine. 

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