My 18-year-old stepson hates to fly. He white-knuckles the arm rests and squinches his eyes shut during take off and landing. The irony of his fear is not lost on him, or on us: his father and two of his grandfathers have been lifelong Boeing engineers (and Boeing managers) who have designed and built planes and rocket ships.
With a younger child, flying can be an adventure. Meeting pilots, getting “wings” and an activity pack from the flight crew, and riding with all of the other passengers can be thrilling for a preschooler. If the loud engine noise or other airplane sounds are scary or stimulate your child, younger children can be easier to distract with games, videos, and noise canceling headphones.
In his book Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Practical Strategies to Overcome Fear, Worries and Phobias and Be Prepared for Life—from Toddlers to Teens, Dr. Tamar Chansky writes that you can prepare your child for this by discussing and simulating various airplane sounds and turbulence at home. “Have the child make the sounds of the wings, the wheels, etc. Car washes are great approximaters of some of the sounds and sensations of flight.”But for an older child who is afraid to fly, distractions and simulations may not work. Instead, with our stepson, we’ve followed the approach recommended by the Anxiety and Depression Society of America (and combined a few of their bullet points together):
We have encouraged our stepson to fly. Every flight makes the next one easier. Positive experiences are powerful forces in overcoming phobias.
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