Air Travel With an Apprehensive Child

For many years, The DIS and DISboards have been a place for excited planners to gather information about a Disney vacation. There are maps, menus, pictures and countless threads detailing the many experiences that can be had on Disney property. This became a paradise for those who love to plan everything from what transportation they will use each day to what they will order at a restaurant. For some, it stretches out the fun of the trip. For others, it alleviates concerns about not knowing how to navigate the bus system or ending up at a restaurant that isn’t their taste. Children are much the same way. Some want to be prepared and have a plan ahead of time. In my previous article, “Vacation prep for the apprehensive child”, I provided strategies to help those children plan ahead for their trip to the Disney Parks. Now I will focus on priming them for air travel. Many children have a difficult time visualizing a situation. This unknown can lead to extreme anxiety about an upcoming event. It is difficult for some people to understand this because the unknown isn’t stressful for everyone. Sadly, it can be debilitating for a child with certain challenges. Knowing what triggers anxious or upsetting feelings in your child gives you an opportunity to help them adjust to the situation. Airport Signage rsz_img_7218_-_edited Before You Go Pictures are a powerful tool. Search for photos of everything from luggage check, gate check, restrooms, shops and security to the interior of the plane, the seats, the restroom, the cockpit, the jetway, and the aisle. Most often, kids relate to other kids better than adults. Show them pictures of other kids navigating the airport or, better yet, pictures of them from a previous trip. Explain what will happen during each step of the travel day and try to anticipate what questions your child will have. “When will I eat? Is there a bathroom on the plane? Who is taking our suitcase? Where does it go? When will we get it back? Why are we not walking directly from the plane into our hotel with a Mickey ice cream bar waiting for us?” (That’s an upcharge I’d pay for, by the way.) rsz_img_7222_-_edited On The Airplane Close proximity to other people can be a challenge so prepare for the jetway and being inside the airplane. People love to cram together when boarding a plane. Or Space Mountain. Or Splash Mountain. Or Peter Pan. There isn’t much wiggle room. To prepare for the feeling of a closed space, practice boarding in a narrow hallway or large closet of your home. Push together kitchen chairs to mimic the seating. Distraction is an excellent method to keep the child from dwelling on their close surroundings. Electronics, activity books, and coloring work for some. Others require more engagement with games such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Would You Rather, or Finish The Story. And don’t underestimate the power of random conversation. “The color of your shirt reminds me of that one time we were eating Mickey cookies before the parade and your face was covered in icing and you thought it was so funny!” Kids love stories about themselves! 1 Airplane rsz_img_7229 - Edited (1) Security Security was much easier when my kids were small. How smooth it went was all up to me. If I had my shoes untied, sippy cups emptied, and a quart sized bag full of mini hand sanitizers, then I was ready to roll. But as the kids got older and wiser, it got more complicated. I had to respond to questions about the presence of police dogs and why I must remove my shoes and why we must all walk through the door frame and why some people have to go into the tiny room of windows and raise their arms above their heads. Unfortunately, we live in a time when children can also be pulled aside for additional screening. TSA encourages travelers with special needs to let them know ahead of time. This is clearly a personal decision and one to be made depending on your child’s specific abilities. If your child is chosen and you think he or she can handle it, then it’s important for you to remain calm and nonchalant about it. You could keep it simple and tell your child that the two of you were chosen to be special helpers. It’s also okay to ask the TSA agent to explain to you and your child what the process will be. Typically, it’s a wand or a hand wipe and is done in seconds. Airport Security rsz_img_7215 As parents and guardians, we must make individual choices about what is just enough or too much information for our children. There is something wonderful about the innocence of youth and it is difficult when that bubble bursts and they become aware of the unfortunate realities of our world. Air travel is one of those experiences where there are multiple stressors present for everyone involved. Tuning in to your child’s needs will guide you through the obstacles and this is much easier if you have thought it through ahead of time. Planning all the details of a Disney vacation is part of the fun. Keep in mind the planning needs of your child if he or she struggles with new situations. It’s impossible to control or anticipate everything that a travel day will throw at you, but preparing ahead of time will increase your odds of a smooth journey. Connect with Liz Mroz on Twitter and Facebook
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