Dear Amy: My husband and I have two boys, ages 7 and 4.
The 7-year-old is a great traveler, but the last time we flew on a plane, when he was 5, our older son completely freaked out. I think the sound of the engine and the motion of the takeoff and landing scared him.
He was fine once we were in the air, but to this day he says that he never wants to fly on a plane. He also had a big fear of bounce houses, also because of the sound of the air being blown into them, but after a couple years of avoiding bounce houses he actually had a lot of fun on one. It was a small miracle.
My question is about travel. We have been avoiding trips that would involve flying, but we would like to try to take a nice family vacation somewhere farther away again.
Do we just plan something and hope he won’t freak out again? Do we try to prepare him for it, or just don’t mention anything ahead of time to avoid anxiety about the plane ride? I was thinking of buying noise-cancelling headphones. Please let me know what you would do.
Ready to Travel Again
Dear Ready to Travel: I am a former freak-out flier. And I cured myself using “controlled exposure,” which is basically the commonsense experience of tackling a fear in stages, while learning about the source of what was causing it. This could work for your son. My fear was triggered by noises (engines accelerating, flaps moving up and down), as well as bumps and shimmying. This is a common experience for less-seasoned fliers.
On one particularly bumpy flight – panicked, I sought out a flight attendant. He described how the bumps on a plane are like driving down a bumpy road. The vehicle is made for it, and it is nothing to worry about. Reassurance! That helped a lot.
Your son might be particularly sensitive to loud noises (it might be good to have him assessed for a mild sensory disorder), but his experience conquering the bouncy house shows that he can bravely face and tolerate some discomfort. Good for him.
Now that he is older, you can show him how planes work, preparing him for some of the sensations of being onboard an aircraft.
The actor and literacy advocate LeVar Burton has a wonderful short film (available on YouTube), where he takes a fearful boy about your son’s age on an airplane flight (”A Child’s First Time Flying Story”). Watch this with your son. There are also flight-simulation games designed for children. Check them out.
The message to your son should be, “In order to go to fun and faraway places, we’re going to fly in a plane. This was scary when you were younger and didn’t understand how planes work. But we know you can do this, and we’ll help you because we’ll be with you the whole time.”
Noise-cancelling headphones, deep-breathing techniques and a reassuring adult hand holding onto his will also help.
Dear Amy: My husband posts photos of our children on social media, but he never posts pictures of me. He doesn’t even say that he is married to me on social media.
What do you think about this?
Dear Worried: I think it’s time for you two to have a conversation.
Many people choose to leave their relationship status vague on social media. There can be legitimate reasons to do this, but your husband is including some immediate family members and excluding you.
His behavior on social media is a denial of a pretty basic fact about his life, and you should challenge him to explain it.
If there aren’t any recent pictures of the two of you that he likes (he may use this as an excuse), dig into the archives and find a fun one from the early days.
Dear Amy: Responding to the letter from “Mom,” whose manipulative and chronically underachieving daughter was “miraculously” admitted to her expensive dream college:
That mom has an “amazing” kid? I teach high school. I know plenty of amazing kids, and I’m not just talking grades. Community service. Outside work programs. Music and acting talents.
The problem is not just the kid here. Bravo for your answer.
Dear Steve: And bravo to you. “Amazing kids” get that way through the efforts of good parents and great teachers.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.