managing travel anxiety

How to Manage Your Flight Anxiety When Traveling with a Child

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I have been flying since I was six months old, but I still kind of hate it. It’s just not natural to go hurtling through the air in a little metal tube at hundreds of miles per hour (or knots…still hurtling). It gives me anxiety. I don’t really like to admit to that, but for the purpose of assuring other people that you don’t have to love flying to actually go places, I will admit it. My name is Kristin and flying freaks me the heck out, but I like going places so I do it anyway.

And before I had a child, it wasn’t a problem. I’d just take one of my doctor-prescribed happy flying pills, curl up in my seat, and sleep through the experience.

Pretty sure I can’t sleep through a flight with a toddler. I mean, I could and then leave the experience to Daddy Monster to figure out, but Little Monster is very Mommy Monster focused and even prescription anti-anxiety meds aren’t likely to knock me out against the constant requests for, “Mommy do it! Mommy wake up! Mommy doooooo it!”

So I have had to find other ways of managing my own anxiety on flights. Plus, I don’t want her to grow up seeing me clutching the arm rests and looking fervently out the windows with wide eyes every time there’s turbulence. We don’t need to pass that trait on.

Traveling with kids
Well, at least she’s excited to get on the plane.

How to Manage Your Flight Anxiety When Traveling with a Kid

It Might Not Even Be That Bad: I should say up front that I’ve had a few flights that really rocked my anxiety world, but when I’ve traveled with my child, my anxiety has been far less than it ever was when I traveled before. The nature of being a parent is that your focus automatically goes onto something other than yourself, so if you haven’t flown since becoming a parent and you’re trying to talk yourself into it, just know that it might be different than you expect.

Earbuds: I used to wear earbuds almost from the second I sat down. Music is calming. Toddlers need something approximately every three seconds, though, so wearing earbuds isn’t really feasible. However, I have also found that I can leave one earbud in the ear not facing my daughter and keep the volume low enough that I can hear, but it also provides enough soothing tunes that it helps me.

Stare out the Window: Personally, I can’t read a book or write or do any of the things I used to do on planes before I had a toddler sitting next to me. So if there is any down time, I opt to just stare out the window and listen to the faint music coming through my single earbud, or read a magazine filled with short snippets rather than a continuous plot I have to follow.

Lots of Things to Do for the Kiddo: A busy kid is a happy kid. Happy kids make less background anxiety for parents. So I have built up a flying kit to keep my toddler entertained. I have a tablet with a few movies and episodes of Peppa Pig downloaded. I bought her some headphones specifically for kids that fit her comfortably and are volume limited. I travel with candy even though she doesn’t usually get any candy because candy makes everyone happier (actually, she doesn’t love it that much and usually just tries it out before giving it back to me, but candy makes me happier so it still works out). I carry a water bottle with a straw for her to suck on if her ears hurt. And I buy a few new things she’s never seen before so I have the element of happy surprise on my side. Oh, yes, Little Monster, that IS a Peppa Pig sticker book.

travel anxiety while traveling with a child
Happy kid, happy mommy.

Play with Your Toddler: Yeah, okay, this might not relieve everyone’s anxiety, but I find it’s tougher to focus on my own feelings if I’m focused on entertaining my little. Just jump feet first into that Peppa Pig sticker book. Lose yourself to that Peppa Pig sticker book. Let Peppa take your anxiety into her simple, three-fingered hands…too far?

Explain the Situation to Your Travel Partner: If you are traveling alone, double up on all things that make your kid happy. If you’re fortunate enough to be traveling with one or more other adults, be honest with them that flying makes you nervous. If you need something specific from them (for instance, some time to stare out the window and be at one with your ferociously surging fear tsunami), tell them. Hopefully they listen and will distract the kidlet if you need a moment.

Anti-anxiety medication: If you really can’t conquer your anxiety on your own, but you really want to go somewhere, you can always talk to your doctor about prescription anti-anxiety meds just for flying. Just make sure if you’re traveling with drugs that you have them in some kind of locked bag and be aware that what are commonly called “childproof” drug containers are actually just child resistant.