How to keep the kids calm while flying

Travelling looks very different now. Prevent anxiety with this expert advice

How to keep the kids calm while flying

Worldwide restrictions on travel between countries means that getting on a plane looks very different now to how it did at the beginning of the year.

And that change, may leave some kids feeling anxious.

“It is understandable and natural to experience some fear about travel at the moment, given the nature of the pandemic. However, you can take some measures to combat or manage this fear,” says Aamnah Husain, a psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center.

Husain explains that it’s important to be clear about the motivation or necessity of the travel.

Aamnah Husain

“When we go into surgery, we know that there is a risk involved, but having certainty that the surgery is worthwhile or necessary can help us focus on the benefit and reach acceptance,” Husain says.

“Similarly, clarity about your reasons for traveling and reminding yourself of this motivation may help you when you are
feeling fearful.”

One of the hallmarks of anxiety is thinking ‘what if,’ and the anxious mind can generate a seemingly uncontrollable and unending stream of possible future scenarios that may be threatening. So, the actual threat is compounded by these many imagined outcomes, raising our anxiety.

“There are a number of ways to deal with this, one of which is to arm yourself with knowledge,” advises Husain, who goes on to say: “During the planning stages of your travel when you are calmer, get information about safety protocols that are being followed by the airports and airlines. Contact family, friends or he consulate for quarantine requirements and arrangements and identify medical facilities or health organisations to contact if needed.”

Husain also suggests that you get organised and give yourself ample time to carry out preparations to reduce last minute stressors which may raise your anxiety. Rushing around at the last minute to find things, complete tasks and get to the airport etc creates a sense of urgency and activates our stress response which can make us irritable and more susceptible to the anxiety of travel.

“While traveling, focus on the now and what you can control in your current environment and circumstance. Identify what action you can take in the moment to stay safe and calm. If you notice physiological impacts of anxiety, like shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, agitation, try some grounding exercises like mindfulness practice or counting by sevens or focusing on your senses,” says Husain.

“Acknowledge what you are feeling and breathe in through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth, relaxing and contracting your stomach. Visually notice 5 objects, listen to 2 sounds, identify a smell and a taste and notice the texture of a couple of objects around you. Bring your attention to your body and notice the feeling of anxiety in terms of sensations in the body rather than focusing on your worrying thoughts. Use your breath to soften around the feeling of fear allowing the nervous system to relax and recover and the feeling can pass. A lot of times the urge to suppress or get rid of the feeling of fear adds to the anxiety so, use your breath to just allow the feeling to exist and that in itself can bring ease in your experience.” She concludes

Flying tips for kids, mums and dads

Speak clearly and directly to school going kids about risks involved in travelling, while outlining the reasons why you think it is important to travel.

Provide strong reasons and if possible, incentives for trip.

Talk to kids about how crucial it is to be diligent about wearing masks and PPE on the flight.

Make sure you all wash your hands regularly and sanitise throughout your journey.

Do a fun role play exercise with your kids that can be like a practice run for the flight.

Identify movies, books and games that children have been really looking forward to watching/reading/playing and save them for the flight.

Touch is one of the strongest senses to develop when we are born and remains important as we grow. Hugs and kisses and even a simple pat on the back can be very comforting and reassuring for kids.

Take turns telling stories or do a quiz together to keep engaged.

Use breathing and meditative techniques to first calm and centre yourself and then respond to others.

Get plenty of sleep and rest before the flight and stay hydrated so you can feel alert and well during the flight.

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