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Addressing Fears of Flying as a Family

Photo by Flickr user Stardust74, CC Licensed.

As a kid who traveled mostly by car, I always thought the notion of plane travel was more exciting than scary.

Every time we hit the road, I’d imagine the backseat of our tan, 2-door Oldsmobile Calais was actually a comfy armchair in the back part of a private jet—the kind that rock stars like Blondie and Madonna flew.

Naturally, then, the first time I actually did fly across the country with mom and dad, it was the highpoint of my young life.

This definitely is not the case for 11-year-old Joe Thompson. The British kid made headlines this week after a CNN article outlined his aviophobia—his fear of flying. Despite a lifetime of plane travel, Joe became petrified to hop on a flight home earlier this summer. Apparently, these fears—and various political situations—have kept him stranded in the Middle East since July 1.

Granted, Joe’s situation is a bit extreme (and, IMHO, a bit ridiculous). Still, the case raises interesting questions; though statistics suggest one out of every six Americans suffers from a fear of flying, there’s no indication how much of this data—and how many solutions—apply to kids.

Sure, a few fellow bloggers have tackled the situation here and there (“Traveling With Kids” has some great advice ; the Matador Network offers good tips, too). And there are a few out-of-print books that cover the subject.

By and large, however, parents are pretty much on their own in dealing with this issue.

One would think that a lot of the same (sedative-free) solutions for grownups with aviophobia would apply to kids. With young kids, however, assuming they can rationalize big-picture concepts such as the safety of flying (as compared to, say, driving a car or riding a bicycle) is a big mistake.

In our family, whenever the toddler gets freaked, my wife and I simply try to distract her—we tell her a story, we read her a book, sometimes we just count with her. This strategy has worked every time. Then again, we’ve been lucky enough to avoid terrible turbulence so far.

If the worst-case scenario were to arise—if we were to endure a truly harrowing flight with our daughters—I’m not sure how I’d try to assuage their fears. I know what I wouldn’t do—I wouldn’t let their issues rule our lives, and would try hard to get my kids to overcome their fears quickly so aviophobia doesn’t strike again.

What strategies do you parents use to mollify frightened kids when you travel by air? Please share your insights and leave a comment below.

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